Across the globe, “Rails to Trails” is one of the most popular forms of adaptive use. According to the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, the United States has converted more than 22,000 miles of abandoned track and right of ways into trails. Here in the DMV, cyclists, joggers and walkers enjoy the W&OD Trail and the Capital Crescent Trail. There are also on-going efforts to build new trails from abandoned railways such as the Washington, Baltimore & Annapolis Trail.
Although no one has yet discussed it, there is the possibility that the old Fort Belvoir Military Railway, a seven-mile long spur that ran from the tracks in Newington to Fort Belvoir, could join the list.
Let me say from the beginning that as far as I can tell from a google search, no one in any official capacity has broached the subject.
But the thought occurred to me after seeing the news that the Virginia Department of Historic Resources selected the railroad as a Virginia Landmark.
The question then is what do you do with the old right of way.
I think some folks would agree that converting it to a trail could be the best form of its preservation.
The Wash Cycle blog, which carries the cyclist torch better than anyone in the region, has a couple of posts on the FBHRR, but he sounded pessimistic in the most recent one.
Nevertheless, he adds that a trail could built and lays out the possibilities.
There are certainly hurdles, but the infrastructure is there, including the bridges over Cedar Block Road and Accotink Road. The old span and dangerously narrow underpass over Route 1 were demolished, but a newer bridge goes over about a thousand feet from the old one.
Another roadblock would be NIMBY. Part of the old Right of Way runs within shouting distance of suburban homes along Tiddle Way. When I was walking along the tree line there, a home owner walled up and introduced himself. He said he is ready to fight back against any plans.
Nevertheless, in terms of NIMBY, one would think residents would not object as vehemently to a trail as they would to the noise that would come from mass transit, if that is proposed, or some other use involving mechanized transportation.
As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, there’s a fascinating history behind this railroad spur. The Army laid the tracks down in 1918, a line that carried material and troops to and from what was then called Camp Humphreys. Ramping up quickly to support the war effort, the new installation trained Army engineers. The service was decommissioned in the 1980s.
The kicker with any plans for converting this railway to a trail is, as WashCycle said, the getting across the Richmond Highway to Fort Belvoir.
Nevertheless, a short path could be added on along Meade Road that would send the trail along Gunston Road bridge and into Fort Belvoir.
For those not allowed on Fort Belvoir, a short path could be built to hook up with the southbound lanes of Route One. (Ou la, la, downhill!)
There already exists an asphalt trail along the Fairfax County Parkway, but the rails to trail option would be much safer and more enjoyable. The ROW runs right past where the Army is building their new Museum. The trail would be a terrific way to get there.
Additionally, an electric-powered shuttle could run from the Museum to the Embassy Suites, just steps from the start of the line in Newington.
One can see the right of way on google maps, but getting close enough to take photos is is pretty tough in these summer months when we have no desire to step where jitterbugs are waiting for a feast, or even trespassing.
Nevertheless, our bird dog mission paid off.
Here are the photographs we took. Please note that the first three are on the installation.
Historical Marker, located at 16th and Gunston.
Looks like an old loading area at 21st and Lowen.
Spur off the spur, located on Meade Road on the north side of Richmond Highway.
Bridge over road and Accotink Creek
This one, taking near intersection of Fairfax County Parkway and Kingman, might be running parallel to the ROW. But it gives a good sense of the natural beauty and canopy of trees that covers a lot of the rail bed from Newington to the point where the old span was located.
The prize every time...