Trail groups discuss collaborating on a more extensive regional trail network centered on the
Virginia Creeper. Photo by Tate Davis.
By Tate Davis
Representatives from Johnson County Trails Association, Mountain Heritage, Inc., and the Virginia Creeper Trail Conservancy gathered with US Forest Service personnel at the new Damascus Trail Center on Tuesday, October 19, to discuss potential new trail connections with the nationally acclaimed Creeper Trail.
Johnson County Mayor Mike Taylor attended in a show of support. Initial discussion of Mountain Heritage’s recent proposal to extend the Laurel Creek Trail into Virginia led to an emerging consensus for redesigning the extension to link the Iron Mountain Trail. Once linked, the combined connector would join the Creeper Trail at a new trailhead in Damascus.
When the Virginia Creeper Trail was added to the Rails-To-Trails Conservancy’s Hall of Fame in 2014, it was said to host about 250,000 visitors, generating an estimated annual contribution of $2.5 Million to the local economy.
Booming business around Damascus has driven demand for more access points to accommodate the growth of visitors. The meeting wrapped with the individual groups agreeing to revise Mountain Heritage’s plan to conform with the vision for a more extensive trail network.
After the discussion, Mayor Taylor said, “We recognize outdoor adventure opportunities are very important. Completing that end of the Laurel Creek Trail will certainly enhance our trail, but it will also add new options for those accessing the Virginia Creeper Trail to explore a portion of Johnson County. I found the conversation to be informative and very positive. I’m excited for a long-term trail partnership with our Virginia neighbors.”
Mountain Heritage, Inc. and other groups are developing parts of the abandoned Virginia & Southwestern Railway corridor into a recreational trail linking Mendota and Bristol. Several potential plans for linking that trail with others have been discussed over the years.
If the expansion of the network comes to fruition, the massive system is promising to catapult the region into one of the top biking destinations in the country.