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Virginia Capital Trail marks seventh anniversary

A section of the Capital Trail leads beneath intersecting bridges.
At more than 50 miles long, the Virginia Capital Trail runs through the city of Richmond and Henrico, Charles City and James City counties. (Photos: Ian M. Stewart/VPM News)

Donald Reid is new to Richmond. The Philadelphia transplant, who’s used to riding the Schuylkill River Trail in downtown Philly, was looking for a new place to bike and found the Virginia Capital Trail. On Sunday, he rode up and out of the city from Great Shiplock Park for about 20 miles. He liked it so much, he rode it again the next day. 

“It’s nice and wide. It’s a little hilly, but it’s real nice. Anything off the road is perfect for a cyclist,” Reid said. 

The trail, which opened in 2015 after years of planning and negotiations between counties and residents, is celebrating its seventh birthday in October. 

Last year, more than one million people used the Capital Trail to bike, run, scooter or walk, according to Virginia Capital Trail Foundation Executive Director Cat Anthony. She said many use the trail daily. 

“We do see people utilizing the trail every morning and evening to get to and from work,” Anthony said.  

According to statistics provided by VCTF, 825 volunteers help with the trail’s upkeep. These include cyclists known as trail ambassadors, who’ve logged 14,427 miles since the trail opened, riding back and forth along the 51.7-mile route, giving people directions to places to eat, helping with flat tires and logging spots that need tree or brush removal after storms. 

Anthony said the trail means different things to different people.  

“During COVID, it was a mental-health place to feel better about what was happening, you know, internally and externally,” Anthony said.  

Over the years, events like the Cap2Cap ride or Sports Backers running events have taken place along the trail.  

Anthony said the route has also seen its share of economic growth. 

“I've seen in the past five years new businesses pop up, like Indian Fields Tavern and Kul Wheels and Spoke & Art,” she said.  

Other events that have cropped up along the trail include a Farmers Market at Dorey Park held every Saturday, concerts, trail clean-ups and full-moon hikes.  

The future of the Capital Trail

Anthony, who’s been the executive director for five years, said since the trail’s inception, new trails in other counties have connected to it. 

“We have seen new trails pop up, kind of inspired by the Capital Trail,” Anthony said. “Things like the [upcoming] Fall Line Trail, the Birthplace of America Trail and then smaller trail connections.” She added there’s even a trail now that goes to the schools in Charles City County. 

Anthony said that in the future, she envisions a network of paths that all connect the Capital Trail.  

“So that people can really experience fully biking, running, walking from their home or being able to commute to school or to work,” Anthony said. 

She said the upcoming Birthplace of America Trail will be an expansion of the Capital Trail going east.  

“It would go all the way to Fort Monroe and Hampton. It'll be about a 45-mile trail,” Anthony said. “How cool would it be to have you know, 90 to 100 miles of trail, going from Richmond to Hampton?” 

Early criticisms

Anthony said in the early years, there were critics of the Capital Trail who questioned what it would mean to counties and how a paved trail would affect homeowners along the route. 

“There [have] been many people who were naysayers of the Capital Trail,” Anthony said. “[They] are now very happy that the trail is near their house because they see that their property value is higher.” 

She said many people were also worried about crime and had a “not in my backyard” mentality. Instead, Anthony said, the trail has become a way for local counties to work together for a common good. 

“I think it's also a community builder, you know, bringing together Williamsburg, Charles City County, Henrico and Richmond,” she said. “It's an economic driver.” 

That’s something long-time cyclist Chris Pond appreciates. 

“That kind of commitment by the people, by the government, the private people, that all commit to that kind of financial process is just very encouraging,” Pond said. 

Pond, who recently completed a 26-mile ride along the trail with Beth Ann Lucas, said the Capital Trail has given riders a safe venue to ride and enjoy.  

“To explore places that we could never, ever explore before. We've got a safe place to share with other folks — the walkers, the runners, no horseback riders,” Pond said. “It's a gem of a resource for our region for people to get out. And I'm just so pleased to see how they're opening up the various trails.” 

Lucas, who purchased a bike during the pandemic and is still new to riding, agrees that the Capital Trail is a special place.  

“We love seeing it through the seasons. We do it through the winter, we've done it in the rain. And it's always changing and beautiful,” she said. “Every time we ride, we say thank you to the folks that thought of it and put the money into making the trail available for us.” 

Events planned to celebrate the Virginia Capital Trail’s birthday include a group ride on Oct. 14 and an e-bike demonstration on Oct. 16. 

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Ian M. Stewart is the transportation reporter and fill-in anchor for VPM News.
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