Charlottesville’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board heard from dozens of speakers this week on whether trails at the Ragged Mountain Natural Area should be reserved for hikers or opened up to joggers and cyclists.
“One thing that’s evident from all of the comments is that there’s a great deal of passion and interest in this issue,” said David Hirschman, the board’s chairman.
Public access to the Ragged Mountain Natural Area was established in 1999 after the Ivy Creek Foundation negotiated with the city to manage the area. Since then, running, cycling and dogs have been prohibited.
However, the foundation opted to stop managing the area after the new dam was completed for the reservoir.
Charlottesville’s parks department is now responsible for the city-owned land and has been seeking public input on opening the trails to new uses. In June, the Center for Urban Habitats released a 140-page report on the ecosystem of the 980-acre natural area.
There are five options under consideration, but most of the roughly 75 people who spoke during Wednesday’s public hearing advocated for one of two choices:
» Option B, which would leave the rules the way they are and would continue to limit the trails to walking. Jogging and dogs would not be allowed.
» Option E, which would open some trails up to bikes while reserving others for hiking only.
John Post, the first speaker, said he is a cyclist who lives in the nearby Ednam Forest neighborhood.
“I’m going to vote against opening the trails up and changing the habitat,” Post said. “I’ll find some other place to ride my bike.”
The Ednam Forest Owners Association unanimously voted to support Option B, according to its president.
Former Charlottesville Mayor Kay Slaughter helped to establish the Ragged Mountain Natural Area when she was on the City Council.
“I maintain keeping Ragged Mountain Natural Area open to foot traffic only,” Slaughter said. “Out of respect for ecology, you must be able to visit the area without bikes or dogs.”
Cycling activist Chris Gist said the city’s Bike and Pedestrian Advisory Committee voted to support Option E at its meeting last week. He coaches a youth mountain bike team and said it can take up to 45 minutes to get to parks in the county.
The owner of Blue Ridge Cyclery also advocated for Option E.
“The Ragged Mountain area is an opportunity to add bicyclists into the system on limited trails,” said Shawn Tevendale. “Riding on a mountain makes people more comfortable than riding on the street.”
Sam Lindblom, president of the Charlottesville Area Mountain Bike Club, urged the board to expand the rules.
“Sharing our special places doesn’t destroy them if we use them responsibly,” Lindblom said. “We know the biggest driver of trail destruction is poor design.”
Lindblom said his group would help build and maintain the trails. He said trails at the Ivy Creek Natural Area are poorly designed and have contributed to erosion.
“We can do better,” Lindblom said.
Many supporters of Option B argued that most parks in the city and Albemarle County are meant for active uses and that the Ragged Mountain Natural Area should be kept for passive use.
“Charlottesville had grown over the years at the expense of natural areas,” said Amy Kaufman, who said she grew up in Albemarle. “There are only two places in this area that are still reserved for natural areas.”
“We should do nothing to harm or stress this unique natural area,” said Irvin Cox, another Ednam Forest resident. He suggested cyclists could lobby Albemarle County to build bike trails at a nearby park when it eventually is programmed.
The county Board of Supervisors accepted 340 acres south of the Ragged Mountain Reservoir for a future park last year, but the county does not have the resources to open it to the public.
Albemarle’s parks department requested $435,000 to develop the park in this fiscal year’s capital improvement program, but the request was not funded.
The county has another nearby property that also will become a park.
In late 2013, the county accepted 410 acres located about five miles south of the reservoir on U.S. 29. The terms of that donation require the future Williams Woods Park to be a natural area. There are also no plans to officially open that park due to funding constraints, but it is currently being managed by the Rockfish Wildlife Sanctuary.
The Charlottesville Parks and Recreation Advisory Board will make its recommendation for the Ragged Mountain Natural Area in August or September, according to Brian Daly, director of the city parks department.
Members of the public can submit written comments for the next 30 days.
The City Council will then be expected to make a decision.