On Aug. 16, local leaders and trail advocates in Bristol, Va., celebrated the grand opening of a 3.1-mile section of the Mendota Trail. When complete, the 12.5-mile hiking and biking trail will run along the path of a former railway from Mendota to the northern edge of Bristol, fulfilling a vision held by the communities for decades.
After its railway was discontinued in the 1980s, the small farming town of Mendota suffered economically. Organizers of the Mendota rails-to-trails project hope to revitalize the community and benefit its neighbor, Bristol, by promoting outdoor activities and tourism to both areas.
Nonprofit organization Mountain Heritage gained ownership over the railway land in 2016. Mendota’s first mile of trail was completed in October 2017, and trail volunteer Bob Mueller remarked that the community has already felt the benefits. “The Store” at Mendota, for example, was renovated and reopened as a cafe and community center in May 2019 after 20 years of closure. He suggests that a shuttle service and a bike shop could be next.
The work is not easy. Mueller explains that repairing or routing around the aging railroad trestles has been a challenge, but the group is fully committed.
“We have a very close-knit group of dedicated volunteers who have had this dream for decades,” says Mueller. “Now we feel we finally have the right pieces in place to make it happen.”
“It’s a slow process, but when you look back at how far we’ve come, it’s very rewarding,” he adds.
The organization received a $25,000 grant for engineering studies in May 2019, and Mueller is optimistic that increased community support will keep them moving forward.
“Hopefully by next year, we’ll have another two miles, and that’ll bring us to about half the total amount of trail,” says Mueller.
To learn more, visit mendotatrail.org. — By Rachael Kelley
CORRECTION: Oct. 10, 2019
The print version of this story incorrectly stated that the trail section opened on Aug. 16 was the first open section of the Mendota Trail. A one-mile section was opened in 2017 near Mendota, Va., according to the Bristol Herald-Courier. This story was also updated from the print version to include the length of the newly opened section of the Mendota Trail.