Richmond Times-Dispatch

Asmany struggle during pandemic, Va. Capital Trail becomes a ‘ lifeline’

- BY JESS NOCERA

When his late wife was diagnosed with advanced cancer several years ago, Terrence Walker grabbed a cup of coffee and took his fears and worries to the Virginia Capital Trail. Walking alone helped him come to terms with what was to come.

He still takes to the trail almost daily to clear his head and unwind.

“For me it’s therapeuti­c. It’s a nice peaceful walk. I have that fresh air and the open space,” Walker, 51, said.

When his job as an administra­tor in the counseling services department at Virginia Commonweal­th University went remote due to the pandemic, Walker changed up his routine a bit, going on early morning bike rides instead of walking. But he tends to walk the trail more than anything else.

When the coronaviru­s pandemic shut down most of America in March, it left people with very little to do. Being stuck indoors with cabin fever running rampant, the Virginia Capital Trail — which celebrated its fifth anniversar­y during the pandemic— became a haven for many.

Trail counts already have amounted to over amillion for 2020, eclipsing 2019’s annual tally of over 834,000.

The most populated sections of the trail are in Henrico County and Richmond, said Cat Anthony, the executive director of the Virginia Capital Trail Foundation, which works to protect, promote and amplify the trail.

“The Capital Trail is booming right now,” Anthony said. “It’s been a lifeline for people during COVID.”

Walker’s thoughts drift to the pandemic sometimes on the trail, to the out-of-state family members he and his 13-year-old son are separated from because of the virus, to the loss of his wife in July 2019.

“It’s a breakdown of support systems we would normally have,” Walker said.

“Walking helps me to feel more connected,” he said. “It gives me the free time to plan a day and to take in how I amadjustin­g, how my son is adjusting.”

The trail was used this year to host the annual Richmond Marathon, with the race beginning at Dorey Park in Henrico, before going through the trail and ending back at the park. To maintain social distance, marathon, half-marathon and Allianz Partners 8K runners picked a day between Nov. 7 and Nov. 22 to run their race.

The Virginia Capital Trail offers a 52mile multiuse trail between Richmond and Jamestown. A paved path that’s 8 to 10 feet wide, it parallels much of state Route 5 through Richmond and the counties of Henrico, Charles City and James City.

The trail cost about $72 million to construct through a mix of federal, state and local funds and is maintained by the Virginia Department of Transporta­tion for the first 50 miles, with the remaining few miles kept up by Richmond, Anthony said. The trailheads are maintained by various jurisdicti­ons.

Over the years, amenities such as benches and bike racks have been added to the trail. Businesses have sprouted up alongside, including Ronnie’s BBQ and the electric bike shop Kul Wheels, both in Henrico and Conch Republic Rocketts

in Richmond.

Henrico Board of Supervisor­s member Tyrone Nelson said the trail provides a boost for small businesses, even local gas stations, in addition to health benefits for those who use it.

“The trail is definitely a place where you can clear your mind and relax, whether you’re doing it alone or with a group,” Nelson said in an interview. “I drive past often and see people laughing, talking and pushing themselves with physical activity. It is amazing.”

Henrico has approximat­ely 16 miles of the trail, sitting in the county’s Varina District, which Nelson represents.

Walking the trail in the Varina strip, there’s state Route 5 traffic on one side and the beauty of the district’s open land on the other.

Nelson would like to see a walking path built from the Varina District to the trail so high school students could bike or walk to school without being on the road alongside cars. The county is working on extending an existing path between the trail and Dorey Park.

Future projects include building a small pavilion and bathrooms near Four Mile Run Drive, with the county scheduled to put out constructi­on bids in January.

Growing up in Philadelph­ia, Walker is used to city life, including walking everywhere. When he moved to Varina nearly 17 years ago, he immediatel­y missed walking in a city. The trail has helped fill that void.

Walker goes out on the trail in the early mornings or in the evenings, sometimes with his pet beagle, Blaze, who loves to drink the morning dew off the grass and— occasional­ly — is carried home.

The Virginia Capital Trail offers a 52mile multiuse trail between Richmond and

Jamestown.

 ?? BOB BROWN/TIMES-DISPATCH ?? A cyclist rides along the Virginia Capital Trail in the Varina area of eastern Henrico County. The trail has proved a popular escape during the pandemic, counting more than amillion uses so far during 2020.
BOB BROWN/TIMES-DISPATCH A cyclist rides along the Virginia Capital Trail in the Varina area of eastern Henrico County. The trail has proved a popular escape during the pandemic, counting more than amillion uses so far during 2020.

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