May 8, 2018
The newest section of the Dick & Willie Passage trail may be ready for walkers, bikers, runners and others this fall.
Construction of the 2.5-mile trail — called Section 6B — began in January at the route’s end at the Smith River Sports Complex. Tim Pace, director of engineering for Henry County, said construction of other amenities, including a trailhead at the other end of the section on Spruce Street, also may begin soon.
The section should be paved and ready for use late this fall, Pace said.
Section 6B will travel from the trailhead at Mulberry Creek and Spruce Street to Sam Lions Trail and then to Country Club Drive, where it will be on the existing road. At the end of Country Club Drive, the path will go back into the woods and follow the east side of the Smith River to the sports complex off Irisburg Road.
The section includes some of the prettiest views in Henry County and shows “nature at its best,” said Henry County Administrator Tim Hall.
At the sports complex, the path of the trail has been cut, ending near the pond beyond the soccer fields. There are other trails cut through the woods there, and Hall said linking them to the Dick & Willie may be considered in the future.
The route of Section 6B was shifted onto Country Club Drive recently after some residents there complained that the original route ran in back of their homes. The route was moved onto the street in front of the homes, which prompted Martinsville City Council to approve an easement to the county to build the trailhead on Spruce Street.
That trailhead will include a parking area and rest room facility that may be similar to the one at the Liberty Street trailhead, Pace said.
The new route has no switchbacks or grades of more than 16 percent, Pace said. By comparison, part of the Silver Bell Trail in Martinsville has an 18 percent grade.
“We were never concerned with the grade but any time you can get it down, you want to do it,” Hall said.
For that reason, Pace said, dirt is being moved and other steps are being taken to reduce the grade on some parts of the new trail.
Parts of Section 6B will be handicapped accessible, Pace said. The existing 4.5-mile section the Dick & Willie is handicapped accessible, he said, which is required when federal funds are involved with the project. The federal funds were provided through a Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) grant, he added.
While the entire section will not be handicapped accessible, Section 6B can have a variety of grades and appeal to a variety of users, from hikers to bikers and others, Hall said.
Section 6B is being funded by a $1.4 million Harvest Foundation grant. Some of that money may be left over because the revised trail route is less expensive since it uses Country Club Drive, Hall said.
Norris Construction of Martinsville and subcontractors are building the paved trail, Pace said. Both he and Hall praised Norris’ work and commitment to the project and willingness to work with the county as the project details changed.
“They (Norris) really want to knock it out of the ballpark,” Hall said. That is because the company feels “it’s not only a job; it’s the right thing to do.”
“I am absolutely confident this is good not only for Henry County but for everybody,” Hall said.
While there is no way to track use of the trail, Henry County has seen an increase in revenue from its meals tax, occupancy (motel) tax and sales tax, he said, attributing that to the trail as well as Martinsville Speedway, the sports complex and Philpott Lake Marina.
“I am convinced people come here (from outside the area) to walk the trails,” and extending them to the sports complex will give fans something to do between games as well as serve local residents, Hall said. He added that the complex may consider adding some amenities near the trail in the future, and Pace thanked the sports complex for working with the construction crews now.
Hall said he met a man from Martinsville while shopping in Danville recently. The man did not know who Hall was, but he told him how the Dick & Willie Passage had saved him from being on the “wrong path” in life. He began running on the trail and discovered the “right path” for him, Hall said.
When Section 6B is finished, there will be a gap between it and the first section of the trail, the 4.5-mile path from Virginia Avenue to Mulberry Creek. The approximately 2.7-mile gap is called Section 6A, and preliminary design work is being done on it now by Hurt & Proffitt engineering and surveying firm. Once a tentative alignment of the section is determined, property owners will be contacted.
Construction of Section 6A is expected to cost $1.7 million, and about $1 million of that already has been secured, Pace said. He added that one grant has been approved and one application is pending for a Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) grant from VDOT to help fund the project. Those grants require 20 percent local matching funds, he said.
VDOT grants were used to help fund the first 4.5-mile section of the Dick & Willie, and the success of that project should help the county’s application for the next section, Hall said.
When completed, the Dick & Willie Passage will encompass 10 miles one way and 20 miles roundtrip.
Select News Year: