Council, Board Visit Park

Published 5:24 pm Thursday, March 22, 2012

FARMVILLE -Park officials are yet to announce the opening date for High Bridge, but the time is getting really close.

Farmville's Town Council and Prince Edward's Board of Supervisors went on an “inspection tour” Tuesday following a joint meeting.

“Phenomenal asset to this County and the Town-it is going to be,” Prince Edward Board Chairman William “Buckie” Fore said.

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High Bridge, the centerpiece of a multiuse 31-mile trail, has its own mystique. Its history dates to the 1850s and the site even played a role in the waning days of the Civil War. Confederate forces attempted to burn-and to some degree succeeded-the structure to slow advancing Union soldiers.

Part of its beauty is that it is relatively in the middle of nowhere-a half a mile span of neither town nor community.

And now, the former rail line is soon to add its signature piece, High Bridge.

“I thought it was great,” Town Manager Gerald Spates said of the tour. “…I think it's gonna be a fantastic thing.”

How fantastic?

Well, no one knows for sure, but Director of State Parks Joe Elton-who addressed Council and the Board prior to the visit to the bridge-envisions big things.

“…We'll get a certificate of occupancy sometime in April…and within a year of that bridge opening over 100,000 people will be at the bridge and within three years, 250,000 people,” Elton predicted, “within five years, a half a million people, and within a decade a million people a year. And, I feel that that could be conservative. You have so much here. This town and the retail that's here, the university that's here, the restaurants, the infrastructure that you have-this is a great place to visit.”

He further noted that there would be hikers, bikers, horseback riders who are going to want to eat, need to get fueled up and places to stay.

“…I can't say enough about your leadership,” Elton told Council and the Board. “I can't say enough about the positive attitude that you've had. It's been impressive. It's been teamwork, that's for sure. I would say from the beginning there have been only winners in this project, no losers and that's because everybody has cared about the next county, the next town, how is it that we could work together for the greater good. That's inspiring to me.”

The completed bridge has long been anticipated. While many have taken advantage of recreational opportunities of sections along the new trail, the bridge itself-spanning 2,400 feet and standing 160 feet above the ground-is often the focus of inquiries.

Park Manager Eric Hougland noted that while there is no specific date to give that day, they are within a few weeks.

Elton also reported that they have acquired additional property off of Piney Grove Road and have about two miles of trail frontage and 280 acres.

“So that will be a hub,” Elton detailed. “That's our biggest opportunity for…an equestrian campground if we need it, RV camping if we need it, a visitor center and what have you.”

He further cited that they are working towards having an air conditioned interpretive visitor center on the eastern edge of the bridge and have acquired land “so we have one of the four earthen forts that protected that bridge (in the Civil War) and we're doing some work on that right now and so…early visitors to the trail, once the bridge is open, will get a chance to imagine what those fortresses were like and how they would have served during those conflicts. We're in negotiations with some other land owners near there, so we're not sure exactly where this interpretive center would be, but I imagine that…the most popular trip will be from Farmville to the other end of the bridge and back.”

There's also a long, long-term goal to build a lake.

Elton says that he imagines that in the future people will want to get down under the bridge and access the river and that they “have to figure that out. People will want to float that river more, there are obstacles in the river…there are some areas that need some rock removed to open up a channel, there are things that they're still challenges for us to think about how we're gonna do that, but if that river's more navigable more of the year than it is today, that will become very popular to be able to float under High Bridge with regularity, to get down and see the old historic area around where Jamestown existed…We can continue to grow this dream and make it a more popular thing for others.”

As for the bridge, while it will likely open at some point in April (after the winner of the first person contest traverses the bridge), a ribbon-cutting is planned for some point in the future.

For now, though, it's looking good.

“It was very interesting,” Town Councilman A.D. “Chuckie” Reid said after the inspection. “Very well done. Job well done.”