By Jane Whitfield
Two years ago, when I first started talking to people about a local multi-use trail, I was excited to learn that many others had thought of this idea, too. In fact, two efforts had preceded me. I envisioned people of all ages, including myself, out walking and biking, meeting up to talk and exercise. I was glad that a group of Rappahannock residents, “been heres” and “come heres” alike, were excited about working together to make it happen.
We met, we raised money, we built a collaboration of organizations and people. I was thrilled when the board of supervisors allowed the project to move forward. And then the opposition from a small group of vocal people got ugly. I was surprised by the anger they showed toward the project. They called me vulgar names and told me to go back where I came from. ‘A bike trail?’, they asked. ‘We don’t need a bike trail. Who could support such a plan?’ I can and I do.
And so do others, including the nearly 50 donors that have supported the project thus far.
So I ask: Why not a bike trail? Why not a walking path? The planned 1.2 mile multi-use trail, known as the Schools Connector Trail, has the potential to provide all of our county’s residents with an opportunity to come together over a healthy activity. In addition, it meets a stated need for the schools and is consistent with our county’s comprehensive plan. The Schools Connector will be primarily in a commercial and education zone — a place where one might expect safe walking paths to exist. It will not pass in front of homes, or ruin our beautiful vistas, or cross private property. And a grant and private donors will fund it fully. Volunteers and students want to take care of it. So what’s the problem?
Concerns have ranged from the fear of becoming a “suburb” (not likely given we have few jobs or affordable homes for expansion) to increased crime (it’s hard to believe that any criminal will travel to our 1.2 mile trail when they have miles of backroads and desolate areas to congregate) to use of county taxpayer dollars (none will be used to pay for the trail).
But perhaps the real motivation for this small group of naysayers is political. The trail has become a symbol of a long brewing power struggle over the future direction of the county. To grow or not to grow (or in Rappahannock County’s case to decline in numbers). To remain agricultural (how?) or to explore new economies (which?). To welcome tourists (and the dollars they generate) or to fend them off (and keep this place to ourselves). These are struggles that rural counties all across the nation are facing. And the answers aren’t easy.
But back to the question at hand. Why not a biking and walking path? The physical health benefits of such a trail can be great. According to the recent People, Inc. report, 22.6 percent of our county population report no physical leisure activity and 27 percent of our adults are obese — leading to the potential for serious health problems such as heart disease and diabetes, and perhaps to higher costs for health insurance and other health services, as well as an increased need for emergency services and medical personnel — something the county is already struggling with. It seems a local and easy to access place to exercise might well serve to get us out of the house and moving.
The naysayers say our residents should travel to neighboring communities if they want to walk and bike. Why? Should a family who works all week be required to drive 30 miles round trip to teach their child to ride a bike on the weekend? Should our growing retired population take to the roads in order to go for walk that is both physically and mentally healthy for them? Should a disabled person lose out on enjoying the outdoors for lack of an accessible pathway? I say no.
Through building a safe multi-use trail, Rappahannock County has a chance to create something good for our people at no cost to the county taxpayer. We should embrace this opportunity and thank the community and the board of supervisors for making it possible. Let’s work together to make it happen.
The writer, chairwoman of the ad hoc Rapp Trails committee, lives in Amissville.