There is exciting news coming out of southwest Virginia, with energy building for a rail-trail to capture some of that region’s growing outdoor recreation market.
In the town of Marion in the largely rural Smyth County, local businessman Tom Graham is gathering support for utilizing an out-of-service section of the Marion and Rye Valley Railway, creating a multi-use pathway linking Marion to the slopes below Mount Rogers to the southwest.
The Marion and Rye Valley Railway was a logging railroad that once ran from Marion south to Sugar Grove, where it connected with the Virginia Southern Railroad across Iron Mountain, through Troutdale, then west to the small community of Fairwood inside Jefferson National Forest.
“It’s a gem hidden in our backyard here in Smyth County,” Graham was quoted as saying in a story published last week in the Wytheville Enterprise.
Graham is asking the county’s board of supervisors to pass a resolution of support for the project, which would aim to replicate some of the success of the nearby Virginia Creeper National Recreation Trail (below), which attracts tens of thousands of visitors a year. The nearby New River Rail Trail State Park (above) has also proven itself to be a considerable draw for both visitors and residents. The potential of such a destination rail-trail out of Marion has already drawn the enthusiastic backing of Smyth County Tourism.
According to the Wytheville Enterprise, Smyth County Tourism Director Ron Thomason said “I really believe this is a home run. I believe it will bring people here,” adding that a rail-trail connecting Marion with the myriad state parks and recreation areas in the region would complement the new trail system in nearby Hungry Mother State Park, which the county is set to unveil this spring.
Graham says the Virginia Creeper Trail is a good model for a prospective Rye Valley Railway rail-trail, pointing to the economic injection its many visitors bring to nearby communities.
“A fraction of that would change Teas and perhaps Smyth County,” Graham told the board of supervisors. “I think it’s something that could bring smiles to faces and work off some of the pounds we need to.”