Pocahontas State Park could add bike trails
By Blake Belden, Staff Writer
Sep 11, 2013, 12:26
CHESTERFIELD — Pocahontas State Park, which is already a regional destination for mountain biking, could see millions of dollars for improvements and new places to pedal.
Proposed amendments to the Pocahontas State Park Master Plan that include a slew of new mountain bike trails and a hand cycling training facility await a recommendation of approval by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation Board on Sept. 11.
The planned changes include 32 miles of new mountain bike trails on top of revamping 25 existing miles of trails, a new day-use trail head facility equipped with parking, restrooms and outdoor showers, a skills training area, a trail connecting new and existing bike trails and a hand cyclist training center where trainers and therapists can assist those with hand tricycles or who have a physical disability preventing them from operating a standard mountain bike.
The new trails and renovations will increase Chesterfield’s yearly economic (activity) by $2.7 million and create 31 additional jobs in the county, according to a study conducted by Mangum Economic Consulting, Inc.
According to the updated Pocahontas State Park master plan in 2011, the park ranked “third in the state park system when measured by the amount of local economic benefit.” The update reported that the park brought in a total of $12,406,678 to the local economy in 2010.
After the DCR Board meeting in September, the necessary changes will be made, if any, to the amendments to the master plan before they are posted online for the General Assembly to have an opportunity to look at for a period of 30 days. During this time, the General Assembly is allowed to make any comments or recommendations they have for the amendments of which the DCR will have to react and adjust to before then turning the finalized amendment over to the department’s director for a signature.
Bill Conkle, DCR park planner, said that hopefully it will be finalized by mid-October.
“At that point in time, we have an official Master Plan which allows for them to begin work, but ... there’s really not much money out there to do this project. They’re still ... doing some fundraising so a lot has to be done before any ground is broken on this project,” Conkle said.
Conkle thinks that the rest of the funding will most likely have to come from fundraising efforts, rather than aided by state or government monies.
Gov. Bob McDonnell has previously announced that Dominion Resources donated $50,000, a sum equal to Virginia’s investment in the project, toward developing the Richmond Region Ride Center, a regional project that includes the Pocahontas mountain bike trails as well as connecting trails within the Richmond James River Park System.
Because the plan is so early in its inception, there is no specific mathematical figure that represents the total costs necessary for the new bike trails. A current draft of the amendment estimates that an additional $100,000 will need to be included in the Pocahontas State Park annual budget to compensate for extra staffing costs, as well as a one-time $59,000 expense for new equipment vital to maintaining the new trails and features proposed in the amendment.
A hopeful grand opening of the new improvements in April of 2015 coincides with the 2015 Union Cycliste International Road World Championship, which is being hosted in the Richmond area, Conkle said.
“It’s pretty ambitious and it’s going to require some work and some help from a lot of people including volunteers and members of the community to come forward to help finance as well as” help to build the project, Conkle said.
The UCI Road World Championship is an international, nine-day event hosted in a different city every year that includes 12 cycling championship races.
On Aug. 1, the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Pocahontas State Park conducted a public comment forum in which proposed revisions to the 2011 master plan were shown to attendees, who then were allowed to give their input.
Bob Wheatley, the president of Richmond More, expressed excitement for the prospects of a new hand-cycling center as well as hand-cycling trails, championing that this would be a prototype for more like it around the nation.
Ed Jones, who owns a bicycle shop, said these new trails will be a “tremendous asset to the region in general,” and can hopefully act as a deterrent for the recent spike in child obesity rates by creating a new arena for unorganized sporting.
The majority of the more than 50 attendees were supportive of the proposed improvements, however there was skepticism and trepidation from equestrians who felt that an expansion of bike trails will force a disagreeable intersection of bike and horse trails at the park.
Susan Kerr, a horse rider who frequents the park, expressed “grave concern” for the impact upon existing horseback trails during the public comment meeting. Kerr worried that more mountain bikers might lead to higher probabilities of collision between bikes and horses, as well as increased closures of the existing horse trails to allow for special, private events.
The changes to the park’s plans also heard some criticism from nearby residents who currently use the land for hunting and other activities which might be impeded upon by cyclists riding through new trails.
Conkle said that these opposing viewpoints must be taken into consideration when formulating revisions to the park’s master plan.
“It’s not a mountain bike park. It’s a state park and there are a lot of different users so it’s important that we recognize that and that we use it as a mountain bike trail area [that] is complementary and not in conflict with the other users that are there,” Conkle said.