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A New Bike Trail Creates Heartburn For The CWPT

Deborah Fitts

(July 2007) WINCHESTER, Va. - A new bike trail on the 3rd Winchester battlefield has riled some battlefield supporters. They liken it more to a road cutting through hallowed ground.

The 4.5-mile trail loops through the 222-acre property, which was purchased in 1995 by the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites, now the Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT). Completion was expected by late June with the installation of 15 interpretive panels.

The trail is 8 feet wide. Most of it is made of compacted earth or rock dust. About 5 percent is made of asphalt, where the trail dips down the steep banks of Red Bud Run.

"It's very wide. It can accommodate motor traffic, it's that large," said Robert Jolley of the state Department of Historic Resource's (DHR) Northern Virginia office. "You think of a trail and you think of a road. This seems to be more consistent with what you'd consider a trail to be."

Jolley noted ruefully that concerns over the size of the trail were raised too late, when work was nearly done. But that hasn't prevented interested parties from seeking a remedy. At presstime in June CWPT was consulting with DHR, the American Battlefield Protection Program (ABPP) and the Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF).

"CWPT realizes there needs to be some mitigation," said ABPP chief Paul Hawke. "If there was a wrong done by them, they need to make it right." He added, "Everybody is working with a good-faith effort."

The federal Civil War Battlefield Protection Program provided $700,00 of the $2.5 million cost for the property, and ABPP put up $20,000 to create the interpretive plan.

VOF has held an easement on the tract since 2000, and had to give written approval for the bike trail. Martha Little, director of stewardship for VOF, said the 2004 interpretive plan called for a 4-foot-wide trail.

"It ended up being 8 feet," she pointed out. "There's no record of a signed approval" for that width. She added that "there's some concern" that an archaeologist was not brought in at the beginning of the project to ensure that the trail did not disturb historic resources.

"We'd rather have seen a more minimal project," Little said. "We're in the process of figuring out what the best solution is."

Unaccustomed to the negative fallout, the Trust scrambled to explain. Spokesman Jim Campi said the difficulty of providing access sparked the interest in a bike trail. The tract is narrow but very deep, stretching nearly 2 miles from Interstate-81.

"It's a real odd-shaped property and it's not easy to get into," explained Campi. CWPT had discovered that a typical visitor would park, "walk 15 feet into the property and walk back. They weren't really using it," he said.

"I can understand why people are concerned, but they don't know the challenges of this property and that it just wasn't being used."

A 4.5-mile trail would provide access, the Trust decided, but tourism professionals warned it was going to prove too much for most visitors on foot.

CWPT looked for major foundations that contribute money for bike trails. They found the Tawani Foundation, which agreed to supply $450,000 of the $800,000 cost of the trail. The Trust also formed a partnership with a local cycling group, the Winchester Wheelmen, which agreed to help monitor and maintain the property. Campi said this should help stem chronic relic hunting.v An additional 2 miles of dirt walking trails through the woods were cleared off and marked by the Wheelmen for mountain bikes.

Campi acknowledged that those who viewed the trail under construction "expressed some angst that it was a highway, no question." Now that grass is growing in the seeded areas and the signs are up, however, "It looks terrific."

He called damage to the battlefield "very minimal if at all. We tried to avoid any historic resources but at the same time get people to where history happened."

He added, "We'd like to see most of our money go to land preservation, but to generate support for preservation, people need to get on the property and experience it."

CWPT sought testimonials in support of the trail. National Park Service Chief Historian Emeritus Ed Bearss, a member of CWPT's board of trustees, commented, "The only way a person can really understand a battle is to literally walk in the footsteps of history, to walk the ground. And this gives them the opportunity to do so."

Bearss said, "They will use this to follow the Union surge across Redbud Run and come to understand how crossing that morass enabled the Union to turn the tide of battle and send the Confederates 'whirring through Winchester' and, ultimately, out of the Valley."

Historian and author Jeffrey Wert said the Trust "deserves commendation" for the bikeway.

Mike Perry, vice president of the Winchester Wheelmen, said the trail offered Winchester and Frederick County "the best of everything. We will now be able to ride our bikes, to walk, and to experience the preservation of history in our community. It is a breath of fresh air to see this property being saved for its historical significance and being offered to the citizens of our community as a resource for family enjoyment."

Jim Lawrence, Opequon Watershed coordinator for the Chesapeake Bay Targeted Watershed Project, said CWPT "has led the way" in protecting Redbud Run. The Trust's purchase of 222 acres was followed by the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation's acquisition of another 140 acres and that of an additional 30 acres by the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries (VDGIF).

Lawrence said, "This land protection was a major factor in VGDIF's decision to reintroduce native brook trout to the stream."

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