South River Greenway officially opening

Reprinted from the March 16, 2012 News Virginian

Years of planning, grants and obtaining of easements will be celebrated Saturday morning with the grand opening of the first phase of Waynesboro’s South River Greenway, a stretch of trail about a mile in length from Loth Springs to Constitution Park.

For more than a decade, conservationists and Waynesboro officials have labored to make the path a reality.

Beyond enhancing the riverfront, the greenway represents an investment in a city striving to upgrade its downtown.

“The greenway trail is a much-needed amenity for current and future downtown residents and employees,” said Michael Barnes, the city’s director of planning.

Barnes thinks that the private sector will see the greenway as a commitment by Waynesboro, and that the trail could trigger more private investment in the city.

Waynesboro resident and conservationist Jim Nichols worked on the original committee that came up with a 5.6-mile greenway plan more than a decade ago.

Nichols believes some of the initial concerns about the greenway have been answered.

“Some of the concerns expressed were about drug dealers and muggers,” Nichols said. “I don’t believe what is happening on the current greenway would support that.”

Already, city officials say they see a steady stream of foot traffic on the completed first phase.

“I’ve yet to visit the greenway and not see three to four people on it, on sunny days and rainy days,” said Dwayne Jones, Waynesboro’s director of parks and recreation. “It is amazing how many people are doing the trail.”

Deputy Waynesboro City Manager Jim Shaw said the $600,000 cost of completing the first phase of the greenway does not tell the tale of the efforts to get the trail built.

There was the grant writing, Shaw said, a nine-month review of the design plans and the two years it took to obtain the needed easements. The actual construction entailed plantings, benches and paving.

The second phase of the greenway will connect Constitution Park to North Park, a distance of just more than 1.2 miles.

Nichols walked most of the second phase Wednesday, and he noted that the trail is very natural and involves the cleaning up of debris along the riverfront and removing downed trees and other landscaping work.

Shaw said the city is talking to property owners to obtain easements for the second phase, and Barnes added that the hope is that it will open in 2014.

The opening of the first phase will be feted Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Dominion Pavilion at Constitution Park.

In addition to a ribbon cutting in which Nichols will participate, Saturday also will serve as the day Waynesboro becomes an official “Appalachian Trail Community.”

The designation is a new program of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the organization responsible for the 2,180-mile trail.

Katie McElroy, Waynesboro’s director of tourism, noted in a prepared statement that the new designation will strengthen the city’s efforts to become a “premier outdoor recreation destination.”