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Rockbridge area begins outdoor recreation study

economic-forecast-headerFrom hiking, biking, paddling, horseback riding, fishing, and swimming, the Rockbridge area is rich in natural resources and outdoor recreation opportunities across a braided network of trails, greenways, bikeways, and blueways.

Community leaders and outdoor recreation advocates are coming together to bring all of these assets under one umbrella by developing a Master Outdoor Recreation Plan, and a recently awarded National Park Service (NPS) Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program Grant will help.  Valued at approximately $25K, the grant makes NPS staff available to provide technical assistance to the project. The Master Outdoor Recreation Plan will guide improvements and promote the region as an outdoor recreation destination.

The project goal is to build a regional partnership capable of achieving the shared vision of increasing outdoor recreation-oriented tourism, and growing the industries that directly and indirectly support such tourism. While the project’s focus is clearly economic, it will also address community health and natural resource conservation goals.  Preparation for this initiative has been in the works for a number years, with several key elements already in motion. An inventory of the outdoor recreational assets has been completed; a number of existing trails, greenways and natural resource plans have been assembled; and a youth engagement fund has been established for environmental outreach programs to connect area youth to public lands and instill stewardship.

Most recently, a project to make a connection between the Woods Creek Trail and the Chessie Trail has regained traction after years of financial and physical barriers. The Woods Creek Trail and the Chessie Trail are part of a greater linear park concept called the Brushy Blue Trail, which envisions connecting the Brushy Hills Preserve west of Lexington, all the way to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Renewed interest and collaboration on projects such as this have put outdoor recreation and the creation of exceptional facilities to the forefront in the region.

Jean Clark, Director of Tourism at Lexington and the Rockbridge Area Tourism talks about the award:  “We are very excited to be moving forward with a Master Outdoor Recreation Plan for the Rockbridge area. The partners believe the study will be instrumental in connecting the region’s natural, historic, recreation, and conservation resources towards greater economic and community benefit. Combining forces to plan and execute a strategic effort makes enormous sense, and having the National Park Service expertise to assist with the planning is a huge boost to the project.”

Assistance received from NPS experts will include help in setting priorities, evaluation and assessment, as well as organizational, site, and promotional strategic planning. The project is being spearheaded by the Lexington and Rockbridge Area Tourism. Additional partners include Rockbridge County, City of Lexington, City of Buena Vista, Rockbridge Area Conservation Council, USDA Forest Service, VMI, Rockbridge Area Recreational Organization and others.

The Central Shenandoah Planning District Commission will provide project management and staff support for the project.