The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors has made it clear that, though Charlottesville’s City Council has voted to allow mountain biking at Ragged Mountain Natural Area—a city-owned park located in the county—they don’t like it one bit because county regulations prohibit activities like biking that could pollute the reservoir. As an alternative, the supes are now pushing for an accelerated opening of a new county park that could have about 15 miles of biking trails.
On the west side of U.S. 29, near I-64 and immediately south of the 980-acre natural area that surrounds Ragged Mountain Reservoir, sits the 340-acre Hedgerow property, which was a gift from the late Jane Heyward.
“Our board is really interested and excited about the prospect of Hedgerow being a great park for the entire community,” says BOS Chair Diantha McKeel. And that includes the bikers.
They’ve set April 12 as the date to discuss how to open the park and where the funding might come from, because money to develop Hedgerow is not currently in the county’s capital improvement program that finances such projects, according to McKeel.
“As currently envisioned, the Hedgerow property will be designed and developed as a multi-use trail park and will provide a variety of recreation opportunities while preserving the scenic and open-space resources adjacent to the Ragged Mountain Reservoir property,” says assistant county executive Lee Catlin, who adds that it had been Heyward’s wish to do so.
The addition of trails at Hedgerow will compensate for land and trails flooded during the elevation change of the Ragged Mountain Reservoir dam, where some of the city and county’s water supply is stored, according to Catlin.
The entrance to Hedgerow will be 2.5 miles south of the I-64 interchange and directly off U.S. 29—an aspect that worries some of the bikers who would rather ride at Ragged Mountain, whose entrance is off Fontaine Avenue with easily accessible upper and lower parking lots.
“This will not be doable for beginners, families with children and anyone who is not an advanced rider,” says David Stackhouse, a member of the Charlottesville Area Mountain Bike Club board of directors and a past president.
And while the trails and elevation at Ragged Mountain are not very steep and suitable for young and inexperienced riders, Hedgerow has a rugged terrain and an entrance that requires people to scale “a small mountain” with an elevation of approximately 1,000 feet, he says.
Rachel Thielmann, an avid biker and member of the CAMBC, is the mother of three young girls who are also on a local mountain biking team. Squeezing in riding time can be difficult, she says, but Ragged Mountain is walkable and bikable from the city. This is generally not true for Hedgerow, she says.
“How can the county even consider this as a suitable trade for biking at RMNA?” asks Stackhouse. “The concept is flawed and has little merit. The county would better serve the public if it were to suggest that the purist hikers who prefer ‘contemplative’ nature hikes should look to Hedgerow for that experience.”
He adds that hikers are the folks who resisted allowing biking at Ragged Mountain on the grounds that bikes disturb the natural area’s peace and tranquility.
“Hedgerow is perfect for the purist hiker,” says Stackhouse. “It is undisturbed, has no water tanks, no RWSA pipes, no old or new dams, no 170-acre artificial lake, and no highway running through it, and it is isolated from neighborhoods and developments.”
This land is your land
Ragged Mountain Natural Area is owned by the city and located in the county. Though City Council voted 3-2 to allow mountain biking and trail running on the property, the county’s Board of Supervisors has argued that it has jurisdiction over the land. With a current difference of opinion between city and county attorneys, the legality of such activities at Ragged Mountain is up in the air.
Albemarle’s Board of Supervisors Chair Diantha McKeel puts it like this in an open letter to city and county residents:
“Imagine if the county purchased land within a residential city neighborhood in order to establish a county-owned urban park. Then, based on its ownership of the park, the county decided to allow a use that was prohibited by the city. As an extreme example, assume that the county decided to allow riding motorcycles in the park at any time. The city would justifiably feel that its authority over the lands within the city was being violated by the county. The Board of Supervisors’ expectation is that City Council will respect the county’s sovereignty and its regulations, regardless of whether the City Council and city staff disagree with those regulations.”