The town proposes to build a 1.52-mile greenway, paralleling the North Fork of the Powell River from U.S. Route 58 to Leeman Field and eventually back to town, where it will connect to the public sidewalk system and terminate at Lee Regional Medical Center.
The majority of the property is owned either by the town or the Lee County School Board, which has endorsed the project and agreed to provide right of way for the proposed project. The greenway is proposed to be a multi-phase project with development based on available funding.
Project engineer Jeff Cochran, with Lane Engineering, said current plans are to develop the first three phases by combining $100,000 from a Tennessee Valley Authority grant with what the town hopes to obtain with the grant it is now seeking from the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. The third phase would end behind the former Vamco industrial complex.
The project would begin near Riverbend Shopping Center. The engineer said completion of the entire project will take a decade or more, depending on funding availability.
Phase one encompasses approximately 480 feet of frontage along Route 58 to the river and a 700-foot section along the river adjacent to the shopping center. Phase two will construct the greenway from the end of the shopping center parking lot through the school board property to the adjacent Lee County Child and Adolescent Center, an additional 1,200 feet.
This round of construction is projected to cost $324,000.
TVA representative Martha Podren said her agency has agreed to provide funding for the project because it will offer a recreational aspect, an educational component, and lead to improved water quality of the North Fork of the Powell River.
She said because of the connection from Leeman Field to the town, the trail could lead to further economic development for the community. In addition to her agency, other state and federal agencies are interested in seeing the project completed, she said. Some of those include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, and the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.
Cochran noted that the preliminary conceptual design was developed by students from Virginia Tech. While funding will determine what is ultimately constructed, the engineer said early plans for the trail include an information center, a trailhead, a gazebo and fishing peer, various river access points, an outdoor classroom, and a bridge to Leeman Field. It would be accessible to the handicapped, and the surface would be paved. The greenway will be similar to one in Big Stone Gap, he said.
Public comment included concerns for user safety since much of the greenway is in an otherwise undeveloped area. Concerns involved user safety from possible crime as well as for health concerns. Podren said the trail will be lighted, and Town Manager Tina Rowe said the police department is already planning to patrol the area and is seeking a grant to purchase an all-terrain vehicle that can be used to access and transport anyone who may be in need of medical assistance for whatever reason.
County Supervisor Claude Ray said he would like to see the trail with a bridged swamp area for educational purposes and said other supervisors do support the project although they are not able to provide funding for the trail. Also a member of the Powell River Project, Ray said that group also supports the project.
Cochran said the application will be submitted soon after Tuesday's hearing, and construction can begin as soon as adequate funding is secured.