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November 2, 2018

2 decades ago, Warrenton greenway created linkage

It’s a little piece of Heaven for Warrenton. You have people from all over coming here . . . . It draws people.
— Amy Usher, frequent greenway user
Warrenton Branch Greenway
• What: 10-foot-wide paved path for walking, biking and running on former rail line.

• Where: South Fourth Street to Old Meetze Road with gravel path toward Fauquier Education Farm.

• Length: 1.5 miles, plus 0.6-mile extension.

• Use: 80,000 people in fiscal 2018.

• Opened: Oct. 10, 1998.

• History: Former Norfolk Southern Railroad spur to Warrenton, built before the Civil War.

• Original cost: About $650,000.

• Extension cost: About $646,000.

• Website: Click here.

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
Jogging along the paved path with earphones on, she wrangles her redbone coonhound mix tugging at his leash.

Erica Veech hits the Warrenton Branch Greenway almost every day with Boone. He seems especially eager to go on this unusually warm Tuesday in late October.

“We run all the way down, so it wears him out,” Ms. Veech explains. “It’s near the dog park, so we go there before and after.

“It’s somewhere close by and in the woods,” the Warrenton resident adds. “It’s beautiful.”

Twenty years after its creation, the two-mile Warrenton Branch Greenway continues to provide respites from daily responsibilities with opportunities to exercise, exhale and enjoy nature.

Last year about 80,000 people used the greenway, according to Fauquier Parks and Recreation Director Larry Miller.

The popular paved walking and biking trail starts at South Fourth Street and extends to Old Meetze Road just southeast of town. From there, an extension runs sixth-tenths of a mile, behind the Dominion Energy building toward the Fauquier Education Farm.

“There are so many benefits of being able to walk and bike in your community,” Mr. Miller says. “From health benefits to economic development and community interaction . . . . It’s a safer way to get around your community.”

Falmouth Street resident Helen Worst has made happy memories on the greenway.

“I’ve taken my kids on strollers here,” Ms. Worst says. “My kids have learned how to ride their bikes here.”

She used to walk them along the trail to Taylor Middle School.

Today, she uses the greenway a couple times a week to walk her dog, bike and jog.

“I see tons of people all the time, but it’s not crowded,” Ms. Worst says.

Until the greenway opened, the line lay dormant, essentially abandonded for decades.

Built before the Civil War, the Warrenton Branch had connected downtown with the main railway line at Calverton, about nine miles to the east. But, passenger service to Warrenton ended in 1941. Still, the railway required construction of a new, $1-million bridge when the state built the Eastern Bypass in the 1980s.

No train ever crossed that bridge.

After Norfolk Southern Railway removed the “Warrenton Branch” tracks between the Vulcan quarry along Meetze Road southeast of town and the old train depot in 1989, a group of Fauquier residents formed “Citizens for the Warrenton Branch,” with the goal of turning it into a public trail.

Later renamed the Fauquier Trails Coalition, the nonprofit group helped county and town officials secure the right-of-way and the Norfolk Southern bridge that spans Warrenton’s Eastern Bypass.

Former Virginia Department of Transportation Engineer Bob Moore agreed that the agency wouldn’t sell the new bridge — for potential relocation — as long as the greenway plan progressed.

The county in 1993 received a $443,000 federal grant and subsequent donations to fund construction of the trail.

The Town of Warrenton purchased the prefabricated pedestrian bridge that crosses South Fifth Street.

Thanks to the joint venture, the greenway opened in October 1998.

“It adds to quality of life for people, and it’s a way for people to get out and walk . . . . There’s always someone on it,” says Mr. Moore, an Orlean resident and Fauquier Trails Coalition member. “It’s a big success story.”

The county seven years ago received federal grants totaling almost $600,000 to extend the trail.

But, county parks Director Miller notes: “It took us a long time” to get land east of town.

In 2013, the county purchased a half-mile, 60-foot-wide right-of-way across property owned by the Leonard family of Midland for about $58,000.

That links the greenway to the county-owned, 197-acre “Stafford Farm,” home to the Fauquier Education Farm on Meetze Road southeast of Warrenton.

In 2016, the county awarded a contract to design the trail extension.

The extension route has been cleared and a gravel path installed, but the trail to the Fauquier Education Farm remains incomplete. Installation of a bridge or culvert in the spring will make the route passable.

Mr. Miller hopes the extension will be complete by next summer.

Amy Usher uses the greenway a few times each month to walk her dog Zaz and to run.

“It’s a little piece of Heaven for Warrenton,” Ms. Usher says. “You have people from all over coming here . . . . It draws people.”

Eventually, the greenway will connect to a trail that opened in 2009 on the Lord Fairfax Community College campus just southeast of town.

His department maintains about eight miles of public trails around the county, Mr. Miller says.

The county has plans for trail networks in “service districts” all around Fauquier. The greenway represents a critical part of the plan that would encircle Warrenton with trails. Over the years, subdivision developers have built parts of the county’s planned trail networks as neighborhood amenities, often “proffered” as part of residential rezonings.

The trails coalition also continues to raise funds — primarily with its annual Great Pumpkin Ride that draws more than 1,300 bicyclists — for the effort.

Contact Cassandra Brown at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 540-878-6007.

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