After six months of work, the updates to the Ringgold Rail Trail, a railroad turned walking and biking trail, are finished — for now.
“We’re trying to breathe new life into the trail,” Pittsylvania County Parks and Recreation Director Mark Moore said.
Moore’s department received a $25,000 Make More Happen grant from the Danville Regional Foundation in April to help with updates to one of the hidden jewels of the county — the Ringgold Rail Trail, which was donated to the county in 2001.
Pittsylvania County matched that grant with department funds, and accepted the help of Eagle Scout Chris Stafford.
Over three weeks this summer, Stafford put together and installed trash cans, picnic tables, and gravel pads for the tables at each trailhead, and benches along the 5.5 mile long trail.
“It took about seven months of planning, with grant writing, applying for fundraising and getting the materials,” Stafford said. “I’m very grateful for taking those seven months, because it could have been a lot worse had we not planned as well.”
The department also created signs to advertise the trail’s existence and also added mile markers throughout the trail. They are currently working on signs that denote the historical significance of different areas along the trail.
The trail began its life as a railroad that served as transportation for the Confederacy, linking Danville to Richmond. It provided a route to hospitals, supply depots and prisons between the James River and North Carolina border.
“We feel it would be a disservice to make improvements to it and not make note of the history,” Moore said. “The depot at one end dates back to the 1850s, and has a caboose with it.”
Moore is working on grant applications for additional funding to finish improving the surface throughout the trail. They were able to improve about a mile of the trail’s surface, and would like to finish the rest of it with grant funds and fundraising.
He said that the department would learn the results of those applications in December.
“There’s a whole lot to come on that project,” he said. “Eventually, we’d like to connect it to the Danville Riverwalk.”
Connecting the rail trail and Riverwalk trail in downtown Danville has long been in the works. The Danville-Pittsylvania Area Metropolitan Planning Organization commissioned a trail connector study in 2012 that said it was feasible, but would require a tunnel under U.S. 58 and cost roughly $5 million to complete.
“I’ve hiked on the trail a few times with my Boy Scout troop,” Stafford said. “It’s a very quiet trail.”
Dan River Supervisor Joe Davis has been vocal about his support for the trail at several Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors meetings.
“I’d like to see the Ringgold Rail Trail eventually link to trails across the state, with bed and breakfasts along the way, creating tourism possibilities for the area,” he said at a June meeting.
Moore has other possibilities in the works for the park, as well.
“One opportunity is to create access to get an observation area to see the area under the trestle,” he said. “There’s a mill pond, there’s some wetlands with lily pads and it would be a great spot for bird watching.”