WINCHESTER — If you’ve been itching to check out the new trail system being built on Amherst Street, mark your calendar for Nov. 25. That’s the scheduled opening date for The Trails at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley.
The new recreational attraction at 901 Amherst St. will include 1.8 miles of paved walking surfaces and more than a mile of rustic trails. The paved trails will be ADA-accessible with a smooth surface and a gentle 5% incline, and connect to Winchester’s Green Circle Trail, a separate system that winds through most of the city.
“We’re really excited for people to see it,” Julie Armel, deputy director of community relations at the museum, said on Friday morning.
At its opening, The Trails will have pedestrian entrances at the end of Jefferson Street and at both ends of the museum’s property along Amherst Street. A new vehicle entrance for both The Trails and the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley will open next to James Wood Middle School at 1313 Amherst St., and the current entry corridor will be restricted to delivery and staff vehicles only.
Ground was broken for The Trails on April 20, 2018, with funding for the $9 million project coming from the Virginia Department of Transportation and more than 1,000 donations and grants.
The paved trails are being built using nearly $100,000 worth of gravel donated by Carmeuse Lime and Stone in Clear Brook. Perry Mathewes, deputy director of gardens and grounds at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley, said delivering the material to the site was a massive undertaking.
“We have almost 4,000 tons of stone already laid,” Mathewes said. “Considering it’s coming in on trucks that carry 15 tons at a time, that’s a lot of truck trips.”
A finishing mix of tar-coated gravel will top off the paved trails in the coming weeks, Mathewes said, and workers will also install pedestrian bridges and an elevated boardwalk above the wetlands located near the museum’s current entrance.
Even people who don’t plan on walking, jogging or cycling The Trails will enjoy how much the project has beautified the museum campus. The new entrance winds up to the crest of a hill that offers a spectacular view of the property, and there are unique art installations along the drive that viewers can admire from up close or afar.
Two sculptures — “My Friend Red” by Alejandro Martín Moreno “Otto” Alonso and “Pentangle” by Rubin Peacock — are already on site, along with an amusing Stonehenge-like display of 12 limestone boulders that were blasted out of the museum grounds and arranged in a circle.
The rustic landscape surrounding the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley is artwork unto itself. Anyone who visits the campus will notice swaths of colorful wildflowers and stunning old-growth trees that make it easy to forget you’re standing inside Winchester’s city limits. Mathewes said some portions of the paved trails were rerouted from their originally planned pathways to protect and enhance the site’s natural beauty, and there are sections of the rustic trails that allow visitors to walk through densely wooded areas that never before have been open to the public.
“It’s really like another world,” Armel said.
In some places, manmade structures enhance the natural landscape. In addition to the Stonehenge display, there is a cluster of small grass-covered hills that were created from dirt excavated by construction crews from Perry Engineering Co. Inc.
“It’s a great opportunity for kids to play in there,” Mathewes said of the hills.
COVID-19 did not hold up The Trails project, Mathewes said, because work has been performed outdoors with plenty of social distancing. However, with the Nov. 25 opening date looming, there are some materials for the bridges and boardwalk that haven’t yet arrived due to pandemic-related product shortages.
“Pressure-treated lumber is expensive and hard to find right now because a chemical that’s used in that is also used in hand sanitizer,” Mathewes said.
Regardless, Mathewes and Armel are confident The Trails will be ready by Nov. 25, one day before Thanksgiving. The only thing that remains to be seen is if the boardwalk that traverses the wetlands will be available to visitors on opening day.
“We’re a little concerned about that, but everything else will be ready to go,” Mathewes said. “It is all dependent on suppliers at this point in time.”
Don’t think the project will end on Nov. 25. Mathewes said The Trails will be an ongoing endeavor.
“We’ll be working on it for years,” he said. “We’re just fine-tuning at this point.”
There will be no charge to use The Trails, which will be open every day, including holidays, from 7 a.m. to dusk.
The Museum of the Shenandoah Valley is still seeking donations for benches and other amenities to enhance The Trails. For more information, visit themsv.org.