‘Schools Connector’ to link Rappahannock public schools
Rappahannock Trails, which began as a private undertaking to connect the several villages of Rappahannock County by multi-use recreation paths, has landed a significant financial commitment for phase 1 of the project from the charitable PATH Foundation.
RappTrails says Warrenton-based PATH approved a “$150,000 commitment” to support local efforts to connect the county’s two public schools with a walking, jogging, and biking trail called the “Schools Connector.”
“The Path Foundation is very happy to support this community-based effort to provide a safe and convenient recreational trail that will enhance the health and fitness of all of Rappahannock’s residents and visitors, and connect important community assets in the center of the county, and eventually, other parts of the county,” said John McCarthy, chair of the PATH Foundation board and former longtime administrator of Rappahannock County.
If built, the connector would realize a 1.2 mile stretch of multi-use trail beginning at the Elementary School, crossing Rock Mills Road, continuing by the Flatwood Refuse Center, and ending at Rappahannock High School. The effort has received widespread support, including resolutions from both the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors [BOS] and the School Board.
When awarded in 2018, the grant will help meet the 20 percent matching requirement for an upcoming VDOT Transportation Alternatives Program grant application to be submitted by the county. The VDOT program offers funding for non-motorized transportation such as trails and sidewalks, and has special emphasis on safe routes to schools and increased public safety.
Funding from VDOT is an essential component of paying for the construction of the trail.
Meanwhile, there will be a roll-call vote at this Monday’s BOS meeting on whether to authorize the application for the establishment of the VDOT transportation set-aside project — in this case the “Connector Trail” — which requires an approved county government resolution.
The BOS, at the same time, would be voting on whether to provide the minimum 20 percent matching contribution, plus “any additional funds necessary” for the completion of the initial schools trail.
Some county residents have made it clear, including in published letters to the editor of this newspaper, that they either have concerns or else are opposed to the trails project as it has been proposed. At least one resident made it known to the BOS that he and others who are questioning the project will be on hand at Monday’s BOS meeting.
If the resolution passes, and funding eventually is approved, the BOS assures VDOT that the county will “provide the necessary oversight to ensure the project is developed in accordance with all state and federal requirements for design, right of way acquisition, and construction,” as well as assume responsibility for its “maintenance.”
“It is such a privilege to be part of a project that will allow county residents and visitors alike to get outside and enjoy the natural beauty that makes this county such a special place,” said Cliff Miller IV, a co-leader of the trail planning committee.
“The benefits of this project to the school division are two-fold,” agreed Rappahannock County Schools Superintendent Shannon Grimsley. “First, it provides an avenue for physical activity and healthy living, a major focus of ours through our Commit to Be Fit program. Second, it addresses a security concern about alternate means of egress in hazardous situations for the high school.
“Funding to address these concerns is limited in terms of construction of a safety path and clearing and paving alternate routes for ADA compliance. This project presents an opportunity that will move us forward in meeting our safety goals, as well as promoting the school division’s emphasis on health and wellness.”
RappTrails has committed to raising funds to meet the required VDOT match and to provide ongoing maintenance of the trail. In addition to the Path Foundation commitment, the group has raised $30,000 in private gifts, with more expected.
If funded, the project will take several years to complete, although RappTrails is already developing partnerships with local community groups to provide volunteer opportunities for those interested in helping maintain and beautify the trail. The goal is to have a maintenance fund and volunteer plan in place prior to its completion.
Jane Whitfield, founder and co-leader of the local effort, is excited about positive responses to the effort.
“It has been heartwarming to see the community coming together over this project. Nearly 70 people attended our information event earlier this month. That’s a great turnout and we are looking forward to working together on making the Connector trail a reality. It’s been great to work cooperatively the supervisors and the schools.”
Asked about concerns expressed in one letter to the editor last week about potential lawsuits resulting from accidents on the trail and who would be held responsible, Whitfield replied: “Liability has been raised as a concern and is an issue we have planned for.
“Fortunately, as a public entity, the county has an umbrella insurance policy that protects municipal activities and facilities,” she said. “Similar to the Rappahannock county park, the library, administrative offices, county roads, and other publicly owned property, the trail can be added to this general liability policy. The county’s policy is held with VML Insurance and should not incur any additional premium cost.”
The mission of Rappahannock Trails is to make the outdoors accessible for Rappahannock County residents and visitors of all ages through the establishment of a public trail system. The trails will allow users to safely enjoy walking, jogging, and biking to provide educational, health, fitness, and community benefits.
According to a news release, RappTrails is an unincorporated nonprofit, working under the auspices of fiscal sponsor, the Rappahannock League for Environmental Protection (RLEP). RappTrails has no paid staff. All work is completed by a volunteer planning committee.