Danville officials celebrated the official opening of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Bridge trail extension, and residents provided input on a proposed nearby riverfront park Thursday evening.

“This expansion gives us an additional way to connect the north and south banks of this [Riverwalk] trail and provides easy access to our award-winning YMCA,” Mayor John Gilstrap said during the ceremony at Main Street Plaza Thursday evening.

City officials attended the event on the south side of the bridge near the JTI Fountain.

Burleigh Construction was the contractor for the eight-month, $1.7 million project completed last month. Danville Public Works oversaw the endeavor.

The project was paid for with Federal Highway Administration Alternatives Program funds administered through the Virginia Department of Transportation. Money from VDOT’s Revenue Sharing program and the city also covered the project.

The extension includes 180 cubic yards of concrete and more than 10,000 pounds of reinforced steel, Gilstrap pointed out. There is more than 800 feet of handrail on the west side of the trail for bicyclists’ protection and more than 800 feet of California Rail on the east side to protect pedestrians and bicyclists from traffic.

“We understand this is one of the few projects in Virginia to use this type of rail,” Gilstrap said.

Former city engineer Kent Shelton and planning director Ken Gillie proposed the trail extension, Gilstrap pointed out.

The Riverwalk trail includes more than 10 miles of paved biking and walking trails lining the Dan River from Riverside Drive to the mountain biking trails at Angler’s Park.

“Many events, such as bike races, trail runs, charity walks, marathons and educational events take place along this trail every year,” Gilstrap said. “It has become a regional attraction that over 300,000 people use on an annual basis.”

Organizations, businesses, and individuals contributed money, property and easements to the city to make the trail system a reality, Gilstrap said.

Riverfront park public input

Immediately after the ceremony, designers of a proposed riverfront park in the River District held a public input meeting to gather ideas on what to include in the project.

The park would be on four acres between the White Mill building and Main Street Bridge across from the YMCA and accessible from the Riverwalk Trail.

“We are just in the conceptual phase,” said Danville Parks and Recreation Director Bill Sgrinia.

Danville resident Gus Dyer III told the Danville Register & Bee he would like to see a splash park or splash pad at the park to attract visitors. It would be a neat addition, he said.

“It would bring people down,” Dyer, who chairs the Danville Board of Zoning Appeals, said.

The site also could use space for vendors selling shaved ice or bottled water, Dyer added.

Barbara Seamster, who serves on the River District Association board of directors, wants the park to include river access, a wading area and a sand sculpture area for children. Non-motorized canoe entry points and a bicycle exchange would be nice features, as well, Seamster said.

Graham Smith, with DHM Design in Raleigh, North Carolina — the city’s consultant on the project — said two public input meetings will be held on the park, with a second possibly held in September.

Public input from Thursday’s meeting — including information from a web survey — will be used to incorporate ideas for park concepts presented at the second meeting, Smith said. A master plan report will be presented to Danville City Council for approval in December.

Other firms working with DHM on the project include Ward Consulting in Raleigh and Stitch Design Shop, an architectural firm in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

River District Association Executive Director Ernecia Coles said a child-friendly maze and other features for both children and adults would be good for the park. It could also include an amphitheater, Coles said.

“It could be a great location for concerts and maybe plays,” Coles said.

Danville resident Rachel Covington said providing a destination — instead of just an area to pass through — for reading a book or spending time with family is important.

Covington, assistant director of community engagement at Averett University’s Center for Community Engagement and Career Competitiveness, said she uses the Riverwalk trail about three times a week — for walking and running, as well as mountain biking at Angler’s Park.

Shading, a labyrinth, a zero-depth splash park and more access to the river should be included in the project, said Danville resident Jeannette Ross.

Anything Danville can do to enhance the quality of life will bring more people to the city, Ross said.

Residents can provide input on the project by filling out an online survey through July 24 at http://bit.do/RiverfrontSurvey.

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John Crane reports for the Danville Register & Bee. Contact him at jcrane@registerbee.com or (434) 791-7987.

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