A Vision for a Four-Mile Circulator Greenway in the Heart of the Community

A beautiful section of greenway that is currently isolated in the woods behind Charlottesville High School might soon be connected to McIntire Park and create a larger, 4+ mile central loop. Photo by Peter Krebs

Although Charlottesville and Albemarle have a great many places to walk and bike, few of them are what we consider to be greenways: wide, off-street, paved paths through nature that people of all ages and abilities can use for relaxation AND transportation. The greenways we currently have are often difficult to find or not connected enough to other greenways to make them widely utilized – but that could soon change with the addition of a new suite of trail projects.

The City of Charlottesville has a long-term vision to create a four-mile loop trail that, when complete, will connect McIntire Park, the Meadow Creek Valley, Greenbrier Park and the greenway along the John Warner Parkway. 

This loop will connect to many other trails and is very close to several schools, hundreds of businesses and thousands of residents. It will link downtown Charlottesville to Albemarle’s economic hub along US-29 North and will be an important way for people of all ages (including children) to get around safely, comfortably and in a healthy and sustainable way.

Missing segments now seem achievable

The City has spent more than a decade incrementally acquiring pieces of land as they became available and building separate individual pieces of this loop trail. Now, they are close to being able to tie these separate pieces together in a meaningful way.

Firstly, this Spring, the City will construct two bridges and a shared-use path connecting Greenbrier Park at Brandywine Drive (Segment A on the map), plus an upland connection to Hillsdale Drive (Segment B) and a streamside greenway to Michie Drive (Segment C). 

four mile loop of charlottesville showing connections
[Map by Peter Krebs. View larger version.]

The City already has allocated money in previous budgets for this work, but we will not know if it is enough to cover all three phases of the project until bids come back later this year. Funding may fall short. The same question of resources is true for a small segment between the 250 Bypass and Michie Drive (Segment E) that has yet to be completed. Additionally, the proposed (FY25) budget that City Council will consider later this year includes funds to connect an existing shared use path hidden in the woods between Charlottesville High School and the 250 Bypass to McIntire Park at the YMCA (Segment G). However, the City still also needs to acquire a short easement across the back of a single private property (Segment F) as the only remaining gap between downtown and the US-29 corridor. The public benefit of this is clear.

When the John Warner Parkway (middle-ground) was built, space was set aside for a future tunnel under the Norfolk Southern Railroad tracks (background). Photo by Peter Krebs

Lastly, thanks to a grant from the Rivanna Trails Foundation, the City is examining the feasibility of excavating a tunnel under the railroad (Segment H) to connect the east end of Greenbrier Park with the John Warner Parkway. That analysis should be complete this year. This connection sits on the border of Albemarle and Charlottesville and has the potential to dramatically improve the quality of life for residents of both localities. If it is indeed feasible, design and funding should become a high priority.

How you can help

Your voice can help bring these pieces to reality by communicating the following to City Council:

  1. First, thank Councilmembers for funding the segments already underway (A and E).
  2. Next, ask them to commit sufficient funds to complete the Meadow Creek connector (segments B and C).
  3. Encourage them to support the Parks Department’s current budget request for the YMCA connector trail (segment G).
  4. Ask them to expedite the final easement transaction (Segment F) and build that section of trail quickly.
  5. Urge both the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County to prioritize the Greenbrier Tunnel by paying for preliminary design and beginning to seek funding for construction.
  6. Remind both City and County leaders that these improvements are part of a larger pedestrian transportation network that helps make Albemarle County and City of Charlottesville a more desirable place to live, work and play. Greenways help make our communities healthier and more liveable for a wider variety of people and should be robustly funded and fast-tracked for implementation!

These projects are individually important, but together, they add up to a much larger win for our community. Charlottesville, Albemarle, and UVA are a single ecosystem, and this loop is like the inner ring of a bull’s eye, right in the middle of their combined urban area.

Visit the loop

While we’re waiting for more segments to be completed, you can still walk the loop with some slight improvisation — I do so regularly. The gaps between the greenway segments are connected by Rivanna Trail footpaths. The greenway will supplement (not replace) the existing Rivanna Trail, making it available to people of all ages and abilities while providing vital walk/bike transportation links between neighborhoods and resources in both Charlottesville and Albemarle County.