By Nancy Lindsey
The saga of three trails once again consumed part of a supervisors’ meeting Sept. 12, with motions approved that allow the board to receive federal money for construction or extensions of three trails: the Mayo River Rail Trail in Stuart, the Dan River Park Trail in Ararat, and the as-yet-unnamed trail at Meadows of Dan.
The resolutions, requested by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), come up every year around this time.
Each states that the board of supervisors is requesting funding by resolution for a transportation enhancement project in Patrick County; that the federal funds, administered by VDOT, pay 80% of the project, and that the county will pay the remaining 20% either in cash match or in-kind, (such as donated easements or labor).
The first segment of the Mayo River Rail Trail, which follows the route of the Danville and Western Railroad (aka “Dick and Willie”) along the banks of the river, has been completed for several years. The next phase will extend those sections in the vicinity of Landmark Drive and further along the river railroad bed.
County Administrator Tom Rose said the resolutions do not obligate the county to spend the funds but make it eligible to receive them.
Mayo River District Supervisor Lock Boyce asked if the Patrick County Tourism Council (TAC) could have ownership of the Mayo River Rail Trail because that would give the county “ a level of fiscal comfort.”
“This is bonafide tourism,” Boyce said of the trail, but added that it is an “open-ended liability to the county.”
County Attorney Alan Black said TAC is a committee appointed by the county but the trail is on easements held by the county, and TAC is not a legal entity that can approve ownership. The county owns the trail, Black said.
“If TAC falls apart, the county is the backup for TAC,” Boyce said.
Boyce said TAC, which uses funds from the transient occupancy (lodging) tax, and especially Primland Resort at Meadows of Dan, is “not able to spend money as fast as it comes in.”
“Since I’ve been on the board no money has come out of the general fund for trails,” said Blue Ridge District Supervisor Karl Weiss.
Black recommended that the motion regarding the Mayo River Trail “not be cluttered up” with references to TAC.
The motion was approved 4-1, with Weiss, Peters Creek District Supervisor Rickie Fulcher, Smith River District Supervisor Crystal Harris, and Dan River District Supervisor Roger Hayden, board chairman, voted in favor. Boyce voted against the motion.
Boyce said the Landmark extension benefits the owners of the Landmark Assisted Living Center and Blue Ridge Therapy Connection. “We can take a ride on the trail in our wheelchairs and walkers,” he said.
Weiss, whose district encompasses Meadows of Dan, made a motion to approve the resolution supporting a project in that community that will include sidewalks and a multi-use trail “to safely connect Meadows of Dan Elementary, the central business district and other various sites of importance in Meadows of Dan.”
“I maintain an aggressive opposition to rails-to-trails projects,” Boyce said, claiming that the first phase of the Mayo River Rail Trail cost the county $400,000. “It lays the county open to liability and if we stop building we have to pay 100%. It sickens me when we have so many crying needs such as educating our children.”
“We have no control on where the funds originate,” Hayden said. “The money for trails can’t be used for anything else. I’d like to use it to pave dirt roads, but the trails are up to the federal government.”
The Meadows of Dan trail resolution was also approved 4-1, with Boyce voting against the motion.
The Dan River Park Trail resolution seeks renewed funding for “a multi-use trail that begins at Blue Ridge Elementary School and connects to the various sites at Dan River Park.”
Hayden, whose district includes Blue Ridge Elementary School in Ararat, made the motion to approve the resolution.
Harris said she was “hurt and disappointed” that Hayden had gone to a TAC meeting and didn’t support funding for the two historic covered bridges in Woolwine (one of which was washed away by severe flooding about a year ago).
Hayden has said he supports all the county’s districts, Harris said, but when he was asked to help the Smith River District he refused. For that reason, she said, she could not support his trail resolution.
Weiss said he was also disappointed that Hayden didn’t agree with certain roads being paved in the Blue Ridge District. “You were not supportive of me and my district,” Weiss said.
The Dan River Trail motion failed, with Fulcher and Hayden voting yes and Boyce, Harris and Weiss voting no.
“That’s pretty much bad government,” Boyce said. “We always say we are elected by district but we serve the county. I think we need to be more mature and not have hidden agendas.”
“This board cannot work together,” Hayden said. “Some people want their way and unless they get their way they’ve got a problem.”
However, after executive session, Weiss said he had “done some soul-searching” and did not think he should vote against any trail. He made a motion to revoke the first resolution on the Dan River Trail and to approve a second motion to support it.
That motion passed 3-2, with Weiss, Fulcher and Hayden voting in favor and Harris and Boyce voting against it.
By Nancy Lindsey
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