City approves master park plan with five-mile commuter loop

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Now that the City has acquired 40 acres of land between Meadow Creek Gardens and Greenbrier Park, trail planner Chris Gensic plans to connect the parklands with new trails, creating a five-mile loop for nature lovers and commuters. Image by Max March Now that the City has acquired 40 acres of land between Meadow Creek Gardens and Greenbrier Park, trail planner Chris Gensic plans to connect the parklands with new trails, creating a five-mile loop for nature lovers and commuters. Image by Max March

The City of Charlottesville acquired the last parcel of a 40-acre tract of parkland along Meadow Creek early this year, and with City Council’s go-ahead, trail planner Chris Gensic can’t wait to get his hands on it. Last week, Council unanimously approved the Department of Parks and Recreation’s master plan for the stream valley, which will include a disc golf course, new community garden plots, a playground, and trails that will connect the existing Meadow Creek Gardens and Greenbrier Park in a five-mile loop between Route 29 and the 250 Bypass.

Gensic has been compiling elements of the plan with the help of Parks and Rec, the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority, the City Planning Commission, and the general public since 2009. He said the public input has been mostly positive, but he’s felt some resistance to the proposed multi-use trail that will run along the path of the newly installed sewage pipes, on the other side of Meadow Creek from the Rivanna Trail (RT).

The two trails will be separate for about four of the five miles in the loop, with some inevitable overlap in the more urban areas, and a separate soft-surface wetland trail along the creek in Greenbrier Park.

“People tend to get a little gun-shy about non-nature trails,” Gensic said, gesturing to the gravel commuter path behind the Emmet Street Bodo’s during a walk-through last week. He said residents were wary in the beginning, concerned that the path would be paved. But the conservation easement on the property prohibits pavement, he said, and the steamrolled trail will be surfaced with finely crushed gravel, similar to Schenk’s Greenway along McIntire Road, with minimal environmental disruption. At 8′ wide, it will accommodate bikes, wheelchairs, and families with children.

“Not everybody wants to walk along a deer path,” Gensic said. “But those who want to still can.”

Because the new fiscal year begins in July, Gensic said he won’t likely get to do much on the project until next summer, when he receives funding for FY 2014-15. A cost study hasn’t been conducted yet, but he’s estimating the project will cost about $500,000. Because the trail system will include bridges and collaboration with the railroad to create a safe underpass at the edge of Greenbrier Park, Gensic said he expects the new park and trails to be open to visitors within three years.

“I have to eat patience for breakfast,” he said. “These things take a lot of time, but when they’re done, they’re permanent.”

In the meantime, the Blue Ridge Disc Golf Club is donating materials and volunteer work for a nine-hole course near Meadow Creek Gardens, and Gensic and club treasurer David Vance are optimistic that it will be completed in time for a game on July 4.

Funding permitted, Gensic said a playground and fenced-in playing field at Michie Drive are on the horizon for the near future. Now that the two miles of Meadow Creek between Hydraulic Road and Greenbrier Park have been restored, with erosion control and native plants along the newly-graded banks, Gensic said he wants to make the whole area safer and more accommodating for families with the addition of a playground and fenced-in rectangular field.

“I got a call recently from someone who was concerned about kids playing in the creek,” he said with a laugh. “I call that a success.”

  • Mike Farruggio

    Such a great idea! When i was on the PC and the Parks and Rec Advisory Board I pushed trails heavily, as well as additional parkland. There are economic benefits to additional parks and a HUGE untapped potential for the Greenbelt to go around the entire city–as planned 25 years ago. Hey, whatever happened to that plan??? ;)

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