Tuesday, March 31, 2009

How the W&OD Was Created

Photo from Left to Right: NVRPA Executive Director Paul Gilbert, Councilman Nader Barouk, Councilman David Snyder, Friends of the W&OD President Roger Neighborgall, Congressman Jim Moran, Councilman Daniel Maller, NVRPA Chairman Emeritus Walter Mess, Vice Mayer Hal Lippman, City Manager Wyatt Sheild, NVRPA Chair Su Webb, Falls Church Recreation & Parks Director Howard Herman, NVRPA Board Member Barry Buschow, Chairman Falls Church Recreation &Parks Advisory Board Gerard Mene.

The W&OD Trail is the crown jewl of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, and on Saturday we dedicated some new interpretive signs that help tell the story of one of the most famous trails in the nation.

The City of Falls Church was a critical partner in the creation of this great 45 mile trail that started as an experiment with with 1.5 miles of paved trail on the section in the City of Falls Church in 1974. After the dedication Falls Church Vice Mayor Hal Lippman said, "as a longtime resident of Falls Church and user of the W&OD Trail, I know the City is very proud of the role its citizens played both in its initial development and the establishment of the NVRPA. Saturday's kick-off of the Fifty Year Anniversary celebration of the NVRPA with the dedication of new signage that tells the Trail's history," he continued, "inspires us to carry on the vision of those special leaders who set out to develop what has become a landmark recreational venue that has benefitted untold numbers of people throughout Northern Virginia."

The Washington & Old Dominion Railroad Regional Park, affectionately known to the world as the W&OD Trail, is the first large scale rails to trails project and one of the most successful trail corridors in the country. Today, between 2-3 million users a year enjoy the recreational opportunities of this 45-mile bike, equestrian and hiking trail, through the heart of the Northern Virginia suburbs.

From 1847 – 1968, the W&OD rail line was an important railroad that went from Alexandria west towards the mountains. It featured significantly in the Civil War, with the area near Park Street in Vienna being the first military engagement fought over a rail road in history. The rail stops also helped define a large area of Northern Virginia with rail stations like Vienna, Falls Church, Wiehle (Reston), Herndon, Leesburg and Purcelville leading to towns and cities that had grown around the stations.

Creation of the Trail:
When the railroad stopped running in 1968, the right-of-way was purchased by Virginia Electrical and Power Company (VEPCO) to be used as a power transmission corridor. In 1974, the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority and City of Falls Church leased a section of the property through Falls Church to build the first section of an “experimental trail.” The experiment was very popular, and in 1977 the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority entered into a five year purchase agreement to buy all of the 100 feet wide, 45-mile long former railroad property. VEPCO (now Dominion Power) maintained an easement on the property allowing for the electrical transmission lines to co-exist with the trail.

Funding acquisition and development of the Trail:
The initial purchase of the property from VEPCO was $3.7 million, with additional adjacent properties raising the acquisition costs to over $5 million (not accounting for inflation in land values). Development of the 45 miles of 10 feet wide paved trail, 30+ miles of parallel gravel trail and numerous bridges and other improvements, has cost over $14 million over the years. Of the roughly $19 million acquisition and development costs, about $1.7 million came from federal grants, including both Rails To Trails grants and Land and Water Conservation Funds. The other funds for the acquisition and development of this trail came from the six local governments that make up the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, and other grants.

The W&OD has been one of the most popular and award winning trail systems in the nation, from its completed last mile of development in 1988 through ongoing safety, interpretive and other improvements today. Some of the organizations that have given the W&OD Trail awards include:

Rails to Trails Conservancy
Coalition for Recreational Trails
National Voluntary Service Award
Washington Post Reader’s Choice
Governor’s Safety Award
Scenic Virginia
Virginia Urban Forestry Council
Washington Area Bicyclist Association

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