Planning continues for Woodstock Rails to Trails project

Work is still ongoing to bring a rails to trails project to Woodstock but organizers are as optimistic as ever about the future of the project.

“I am all in. It’s an ideal whose time has come.” said Don Hindman, who chairs the Woodstock Rail to Trail committee.

The keyword, however, is patience. Hindman cautions this is a long-term project, possibly years before completion.

“Before we have conversations with Norfolk Southern, we want to have our house in order,” Hindman said.

The trail could be roughly 17 miles long in the area of Woodstock, along railroad property. Norfolk Southern announced last year it was planning on no longer servicing the lines.

“I think there is a possibility this could happen,” said Woodstock Mayor Jeremy McCleary, adding, now is the time to move the project forward.

“We have a state park going into Seven Bends. It is the perfect opportunity,” he said.

Administrators of The Seven Bends State Park project in Shenandoah County hope people can start to use the public portion of the property in 2018.

A bike trail is needed because the area has a lot of narrow county roads with no shoulders, Hindman said.

“We don’t have here in the county long distance, consistent, safe roads that are practical for mom, dad and kids,” he said.

McCleary created a committee a year ago to study the feasibility of creating such a trail in the Woodstock area.

There is a reason they are still conducting due diligence and working to prove the project is feasible, Hindman said.

He is planning for when they approach Norfolk Southern as well as other entities they anticipate eventually having to partner with. The prospective partners include the county as part of an effort to create a trail that would go county wide or maybe the state if it were to become part of a state park system.

“I want to make it easy for them to say ‘yes,'” Hindman said.

A dozen people make up five subcommittees: a steering committee, a finance committee, a communications/media committee, an industry relations committee, and an engineering and planning committee. They meet once or sometimes twice a month.

“We have been doing our homework,” Hindman said.

They have examined successful rail to trail paths to learn how those committees designed and funded the paths. They have also scouted for and planned for how they would tackle safety concerns – such as bridges.

The cost of the Woodstock trail could vary greatly depending on factors in the final design, such as how much of the path is paved and the engineering required to create the trail.

“Areas who had the vision and created rails to trails systems have benefited. Those who did not have the vision early on lost the land,” Hindman said.