AXTON – “Beautiful,” “scenic” and “fantastic” were just some of the words used to describe the latest section of the Dick and Willie Passage trail that opened to the public on Monday.
“It’s the most beautiful part of the trail,” proclaimed Jim Adams, chairman of the Henry County Board of Supervisors, before a ribbon was cut to open the 2.5-mile section of the paved trail.
It is an addition to the 4.5-mile existing Dick and Willie Passage Trail which runs from the El Parral Mexican Restaurant on Commonwealth Boulevard to Mulberry Creek.
There is one more section to be constructed.
When that leg, called Section 6A, is completed, the Dick & Willie Passage will encompass 10 miles one way.
The portion that was opened is called Section 6B. Construction was expected to be completed a year ago but inclement weather and a redesign caused that timetable to shift considerably.
County Administrator Tim Hall said at the ribbon-cutting that the contract for the trail construction was for 270 calendar days but there were 263 weather days.
Before the event began, Hall told how he had walked the trail on Sunday and at least eight people stopped him to compliment the county on the project, offer their thanks for it and ask when Section 6A will be done.
More than 50 people attended the ribbon-cutting program then walked along the new route.
The section runs from a trailhead on Spruce Street – complete with a new restroom facility and parking area – to Sam Lions Trail and then Country Club Drive.
It follows the existing road to the end of Country Club, where the paved path goes back into the woods and follows the east side of the Smith River to the Smith River Sports Complex off Irisburg Road.
“I like the sound,” noted Jennifer Gregory of Martinsville as she walked along the trail and listened to the Smith River bubbling nearby.
Gregory said she has walked the entire Dick and Willie Passage trail since it was begun in 2010.
The addition unveiled “is the most scenic by far,” she said. “I love it.”
Carla Norris of Horsepasture agreed.
She walked on the new section for the first time after the ribbon cutting and called it “fantastic” and something other communities should consider doing.
Norris knows the value of trails.
She and her husband, Bob, have carved trails out of their property in Horsepasture to create a mountain biking complex.
“It brings people into the woods enjoying nature,” Carla Norris said. “It helps people appreciate nature while we still have it.”
Mervyn and Virginia King of Martinsville also walked on the trail and called it “scenic” and “beautiful,” especially the area next to the Smith River where a block wall has been constructed.
They noted that there are some steep spots on the trail but said they probably pose more problems for cyclists than walkers.
More importantly, King noted that walking and socializing are among the healthiest activities for seniors.
During the program, Adams said the Henry County Board of Supervisors recognizes the importance of quality of life amenities and tourism to the area.
The Dick and Willie connects the community to people elsewhere, to families and friends, to nature and more, he said.
He added that he recently saw local banker William L. “Billy” Kirby IV on the trail with his father and his son, and said he hopes the trail will continue to serve multiple generations of families in the future.
Adams said the partners in the trail were able to look past the area’s economic problems at the time and instead were passionate about improving the quality of life and outdoor opportunities in the area.
Among those he and others mentioned as early supporters of the trail, were the late Henry County Administrator Benny Summerlin and Brian Williams of the Dan River Basin Association.
“Without their encouragement, this project would not have happened,” Adams said.
DeWitt House, senior program officer with Harvest, speaking on behalf of the foundation’s board and its president, Allyson Rothrock, thanked all the partners who helped with the trail’s development.
He cited Henry County, Martinsville, the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp., Smith River Sports Complex, Virginia Department of Transportation and Dan River Basin Association, as well as “unsung heroes” with Norris Construction of Martinsville and the Henry County administration staff.
Hall also praised Norris Construction, which was the contractor for the project, for its patience despite the delays.
County engineer Tim Pace presented gifts to Kurt Norris and Johnny Yeaman with the company.
Brian McAlexander was project director.
Kurt Norris also thanked The Harvest Foundation for its support of the trail and other efforts in the area; the county staff; and his wife.
Sarah Hodges of the economic development corporation called the Dick and Willie “a great example of what can be achieved when we work together.”
She said it brings people into the community, which creates opportunities and enhances business, thereby driving growth.
Hodges urged those present to speak to others when they are on the trail.
She said they likely to hear that visitors “came because they love what we have here.”
Hall agreed that the trail is the latest of the many cooperative efforts between Henry County and Martinsville.
The city’s mayor, Kathy Lawson, noted that when the Dick and Willie was begun nine years ago, some people may have thought it was a waste.
Now, it is used by hundreds of people every day, she said, adding that the newest section may become the most utilized of all.
People using the trail may wonder at the small painted rocks placed along the path.
They were painted at Oktoberfest this year and last, and residents are being encouraged to go out and try to find the ones they created.
The final leg of the trail, Section 6A, will run about 2.7 miles from Mulberry Creek to Spruce Street.
Hall said right-of-way acquisition has been completed for that section, and design work and obtaining funding will come next.
Section 6A is expected to cost $1.7 million, Pace has said.
There is no timetable for that project, Hall added.