The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Stafford dedicates new trail segment
BY ROB HEDELT
Nick Como wasn’t even breathing hard Saturday morning as he slogged up a new section of the Belmont–Ferry Farm Trail dedicated and opened just moments before.
You couldn’t say the same for Como’s trusty greyhounds, Bella and Scooby. They seemed thrilled to be out and about, but were breathing loudly enough to be heard up around the bend.
“This is the best thing Stafford County has ever done,” said Como, who lives on nearby Forbes Street and expects to use the trail most days. “They should be congratulated for doing a nice job with this. It’s first-rate.”
Como and his four-legged friends were excited about the paved trail that, with the addition of a new section about a mile long, now runs 2.2 miles.
One end starts just below Gari Melchers’ Belmont, goes on sidewalks through Falmouth bottom, runs briefly along River Road, rises to and goes through St. Clair Brooks Memorial Park, passes the YMCA and then winds across to the far edge of John Lee Pratt Memorial Park.
The opening of this Phase 3 of the trail, a project that has been years in development, was celebrated by a collection of Stafford County officials at a special ceremony, and with games, activities and booths along the trail.
Even before the trail was officially dedicated with the cutting of a ribbon and the ringing of the bell at nearby Union Church, it was already being tried out by walkers, cyclists and a passel of stroller-pushing parents.
“We’re really excited about it,” said Fran Okeson, who, with his wife, Pilar, watched the dedication holding bicycles they would use to ride the trail. “We’ve used the existing part all the time and this just adds a nice, new stretch.”
At the short ceremony, various county officials noted their hopes that the trail will bring attention and visitors to a host of historic and recreational attractions along its path, especially in the historic village of Falmouth.
Indeed, when finished, the trail will link the Stafford Visitors Center, several county parks and a raft of important sites along the Rappahannock River: George Washington’s Boyhood Home (Ferry Farm), historic Chatham Manor, Gari Melchers’ Home and Studio at Belmont, and the Moncure Conway House.
Stafford County Administrator Anthony Romanello said he expects the trail will get a great deal of use, and that popularity could help move the final two sections to completion.
Romanello and other county officials noted that the final two sections extend in different directions from the Chatham Bridge.
One would run from the end of the finished trail at the edge of Pratt Park along River Road to the bridge.
The other would extend on the other side of State Route 3 at the bridge to end up near Ferry Farm.
Though some planning work has been done on some of the last two segments, and there is some connected funding, Romanello said a good guess for a finish date would be “probably two or three years out.”
According to county Parks and Recreation Director Chris Hoppe, who has worked closely with the project, the section from Pratt Park to the Chatham Bridge may be the more difficult and last completed, because much of that trail path lies in the river’s flood plain.
“Depending on what design is chosen, you could be looking at a raised deck in some places,” he said, noting that Stafford will work closely with the National Park Service to plan how and exactly where the trail will run.
Harry Crisp, formerly the county supervisor for the district in which the trail lies, was one of many on hand yesterday to see the new stretch opened.
He noted that one thing that helped move the project forward a few years back was the end of the Fredericksburg Stafford Park Authority, which administered Brooks Park.
“The authority really didn’t have the staff,” or the money needed as the match for a VDOT grant used for the trail, he noted. “Once the authority folded and the county took over, we had the people and the resources that got it moving.”
An unusual feature at the ceremony was the ringing of the Union Church bell. It was accomplished via cellphone prompts from a county staffer at the ribbon-cutting and another at Union Church, where the bell, removed to allow for restoration work, was sitting out front in a wooden stand.
That historic bell, seen by many attending the trail day on a swing up to the remains of Union Church, rang loud and clear—audible to a new round of walkers, runners and cyclists all along the new and improved trail.