Biking battle continues: Supes give the okay on studying Hedgerow

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Albemarle County has an ordinance that prohibits bike riding at Ragged Mountain, but the natural area is located in Charlottesville where City Councilors have voted to allow it. Staff photo Albemarle County has an ordinance that prohibits bike riding at Ragged Mountain, but the natural area is located in Charlottesville where City Councilors have voted to allow it. Staff photo

Albemarle Board of Supervisors Chair Diantha McKeel said in February that an accelerated opening of Hedgerow Park could be an alternative to allowing biking at Ragged Mountain Natural Area, a controversial city-owned and county-located property on which both governing bodies are at odds about whether cycling should be permitted.

In an April 12 work session, the supervisors discussed the feasibility of opening the new park and all agreed to authorize an immediate conceptual engineering study for the space, which consists of 340 acres just south and west of the Interstate 64 and Route 29 interchange. It abuts Ragged Mountain Natural Area. If all goes well, the park’s construction would take place next year between May and November.

“To get to this park, you’re going to have to drive,” said Trevor Henry, the county director of facilities and environmental services. This has been a negative for cyclists looking for a location they can bike to.

Gauging the use at Preddy Creek Trail Park, which is the most similar county space to the proposed park, Henry estimates that 40 parking spaces will be necessary at Hedgerow. He also wants to allow space for about six horse trailers.

“The terrain here is incredibly steep in many places,” said Supervisor Ann Mallek, and it’s not ideal for horseback riding. “Not everything has to be available at every place.”

Each county park allows its own recreational activities, granting the estimated 800,000 people who visited them last year the opportunity to choose their destinations based on the activities they plan to do, Mallek said. And prohibiting horseback riding at Hedgerow would allow for a smaller parking lot.

But Supervisor Liz Palmer noted that when the late Jane Heyward gave the land to the county, she was adamant it be used for different kinds of recreation, including horseback riding. As for parking, on a recent Sunday afternoon at Crozet’s Sugar Hollow and Mint Springs Valley Park, she said she counted more than 50 cars in each lot.

“It’s interesting to me that it seemed a lot safer with people getting out [of their cars] with picnic bags and dogs and kids and everything to have a little bit bigger parking lot,” Palmer said.

Henry told supervisors the existing entrance into Hedgerow would first need widening, and potentially paving. He listed a number of possible issues that have design and cost implications, including the current parking lot’s location in a 100-year floodplain and proximity to a stream buffer, which could result in stream mitigation work.

The price? Henry estimates it at an initial $1.5 million; adding a pavilion and running electricity to it would cost an extra $450,000.

“I see lots of Eagle Scout projects,” said Mallek. Supervisor Rick Randolph said they’d be happy to accept any donations.

At Ragged Mountain, Charlottesville and Albemarle County officials are still at odds over who should have ultimate authority over the property.

Virginia code says localities may make rules for parks they operate in other jurisdictions, but “no ordinances in conflict with an ordinance of the jurisdiction wherein the property is located shall be enacted.”

When the Ivy Creek Foundation handed Ragged Mountain Natural Area over to the city in 2014, former foundation director and city councilor Dede Smith—not involved with either group at the time—says she doubts the city knew about the county’s ordinance that disallows biking.

“They certainly did not know about the history of the reservoir as the only clean raw water we have in the community,” Smith says. “I very much regret that the Ivy Creek Foundation gave up management, but I wasn’t there anymore at that point, so I am not privy to the decision. ICF protected the land back in the 1990s for a reason, but that was lost in the transfer.”

Adds Smith, “An important point to make in the disagreement about governmental rights of the use of the land is that the Ivy Creek Foundation had to get the approval of the county to establish the natural area. For the city to say [the county has] no rights now is simply wrong.”

A price to pay

The accelerated opening of Hedgerow Park won’t be cheap. Here’s how Trevor Henry, the county’s director of facilities and environmental services, breaks it down.

Base scope:

$1,486,000

Additive for pavilion and its utilities: $450,000

Total: $1,936,000

Annual operating cost:

Staff: $65,534

Operating: $15,810

Total: $81,344

Startup/one-time cost:

Equipment (vehicle and trailer): $66,708

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