Four mountain bike routes and other amenities were highlighted during an April 28 ribbon cutting to celebrate the newly enhanced trail system at the Woolwine IC DeHart Memorial Park.
Patrick County Director of Tourism and Marketing James Houchins told the nearly 50 people attending that the trails were constructed by volunteers.
The I.C. DeHart Trail System was established in 2009 with 8 miles of trail under the direction of Eric O’Connell, an avid trail rider. It includes four suggested routes, ranging from 2.5 miles to 14.6 miles. Each route is marked with a different color.
Over many years, O’Connell and dozens of volunteers invested countless hours in building and expanding the trail system. In 2022, the Eco Ambassador Council (EAC), a coalition of business leaders in the region, provided funding to enhance the trail system to attract more visitors to the trail.
“Funding provided by the Eco Ambassadors Council of the Dan River Basin Association (DRBA) helped do the restructuring of the trails,” Houchins said at the event that included several speakers who discussed the investment, history, and community involvement related to the newly enhanced trail, ribbon cutting and invitation to walk the trail. Pickle & Ash of Patrick Springs provided free refreshments for guests.
“The I.C. Woolwine Trail System has been a valued treasure in Patrick County for many years, but not many people knew it even existed,” said Houchins. “Today we celebrate the new and enhanced trail system, the hard work and generous investment of the many people – past and present – who have invested in putting this amazing trail on the map. The I.C. Trail System is open and ready to welcome people who hike, bike, and love nature.”
Houchins said the park also includes a picnic shelter, a playground, two all-purpose courts, a baseball field, walking trails, a horseshoe pitching area, and trail hand sculptures.
“IC DeHart Park also supports a beautiful, reclaimed wetland site, with a boardwalk and extensive interpretative information. Numerous signs are located throughout the park with information about the insects, the reptiles, the birds, and plants found in the wetlands and documented here accordingly,” Houchins said.
Brian Williams, Virginia Program Manager for the Dan River Basin Association (DRBA), managed the project in partnership with a stakeholder group of volunteers with expertise in the design of International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA)-style trail building, GIS mapping, and construction.
“So many people came together to make this trail what it is today. Thank you, Eric O’Connell, for his initial vision, Jim Frith who really kept us on track, Joe Freeman, Katy Miller, Daren Layman, and Michael Ryba were all part of the committee and had the passion and did the hard work of marking, mapping, reworking, and trail maintenance. Thanks also to the Eco Ambassador Council, Patrick County High School Building and Trades students, and Patrick County Parks and Recreation and Tourism,” said Williams. “More than 1.5 million Virginians and North Carolinians live within 50 miles of the I.C. DeHart Trail System. This improved trail system and historic resource will not only enhance the local economy, it will provide a unique outdoor recreational experience for visitors.”
The Eco Ambassador Council (EAC) is a coalition of regional businesses that combine their investment to protect, promote and preserve the environment in the Dan River Basin. Current EAC members include Blair Construction, Carter Bank & Trust, Clark Gas & Oil, Frith Construction, The Lester Group, Hooker Furnishings, Jones & DeShon Orthodontics, and Pickle & Ash. Each business pledges an annual donation and a commitment to encourage their employees to participate in EAC projects. The EAC started in 2020 and is open to all businesses in the Dan River Basin that want to make a visible impact in the region.
Sandra Belcher, chairman of the Woolwine Park Association, said the park is special to the volunteers that assist with its upkeep.
“We have seven volunteers that look over the park. County maintenance mows, and then we have a wonderful new manager of Parks and Rec” she said of Travis Murphy, who is “on board and he’s already started doing projects every which way.”
Belcher said the results of a community survey will determine the projects the park association needs to work on next.
Based on those results, “we need benches, we need ADA (Americans with Disability Act) accessible and compliant restrooms, fix up the tennis courts with some pickleball courts, take care of the community shelter with heating and air, and a few other things, as well as more equipment for the trails,” Belcher said.
Another future project is the implementation of a Moonshine Trail in partnership with Floyd, Franklin, and Henry counties.
“This park will be on the Moonshine Trail,” Belcher said of the Woolwine facility. “One of our hopes is to put a big mural on the community building up there of moonshine and that sort of thing, and also have a moonshine history walk.”
Doug Perry, who represents the Smith River District on the Patrick County Board of Supervisors, said he was unable to express enough appreciation and gratitude to all the people who put time, effort, and money into the new trails, “and really giving us something to really be proud of and proud for.
“My wife comes up here and community members come up here and walk part of the trail,” Perry said. “It’s absolutely wonderful. It doesn’t get much better.”