NORFOLK, Va. – Imagine having the ability to run, bike or walk on a 10-mile trail along a historic riverfront while traveling through 28 historic neighborhoods, passing by an army fort commissioned by George Washington in 1794, taking in a baseball game, learning about the environment and local history, sampling an eclectic blend of restaurants, visiting museums or attending a festival.
In downtown Norfolk, a partnership between the city, private organizations and local companies, like Virginia Natural Gas, has come together to transform an iconic urban waterway into a community asset by connecting parts of the city by a single trail and helping those that use it feel connected to the city.
“This trail really is a slice of heaven in our own backyard,” said Cheryl White, executive director of the Elizabeth River Trail Foundation. “Through the work of many organizations and donations like what we received from Virginia Natural Gas, the trail already is an asset to the community and will help promote economic growth, while providing opportunities to be active in fun ways with a lot of cool stuff to see and do.”
The Elizabeth River Trail, a 10.5-mile urban biking, running and pedestrian trail is adjacent to the Elizabeth River, and stretches from Norfolk State University in the eastern portion of the city to Lockhaven in the north, all while providing scenic views, play areas or areas to relax, and showcases a slice of life in Norfolk.
“That was one of the many reasons we became involved and donated $50,000 toward the project,” said George Faatz, director of Growth and Strategic planning at VNG. “We are a very big proponent of environmental stewardship and investing in the communities where we live and serve. The community’s desire to return a place of nature back to its city and provide educational opportunities on how to take care of the environment was something we knew we had to get behind.”
What started as an idea back in 1993 when the city wanted to connect adjoining neighborhoods via walkways, the project really gathered steam in 2003 when Norfolk Southern Railroad donated a section of track no longer in use. That first 3,500-foot section started growing, with the city connecting and piecing together smaller existing paths and walkways.
Today, the trail is 10 miles long with future expansion possibilities. It provides not only a transportation outlet to get from one part of the city to the next, but will educate, entertain and engage those that use it and provide a sense of belonging along an urban waterway.
It will also have an environmental side, with areas set aside for wildflowers, managed orchards and micro-farm gardens, and opportunities for the community to come together to learn and actively take part in keeping the waterfront and community clean.
With the donation from VNG, the Elizabeth River Trail Foundation plans on acquiring recycle bins that will be located at 11 different trailheads, helping to alleviate a shortage of recycling and trash containers along the trail.
“We believe it’s important to protect and preserve the environment in which we serve,” added Faatz. “It’s our hope that by making this investment in the community that the bins will encourage users to keep the trail clean for years to come.”