Expanding Amenities Along the Waterfront TrailJanuary 04, 2021
Cheryl White could not have arranged a more perfect demonstration of Norfolk’s Elizabeth River Trail. While she described the 10.5-mile trail, an endless procession of joggers, walkers, bicyclists and dogs strolling with their owners streamed past her turning her narrative into reality.
As executive director of the Elizabeth River Trail Foundation, White oversees the well-used urban pathway that started in 2003. The trail’s popularity, which escalated in 2020 by at least 33% in the spring as people used it for recreation during COVID-19 restrictions, motivates her to continue enhancing the trail. A $200,000 Vibrant Places grant from the Hampton Roads Community Foundation is helping give the trail amenities for users of all ages.
“We have a really big mission,” White says of the trail foundation she heads. “We want to create the most iconic urban riverfront trail in the country.” The trail winds along the Elizabeth and Lafayette rivers from Norfolk State University through Town Point Park, Plum Point Park, the Chelsea industrial and commercial district, West Ghent, Old Dominion University, and the Lamberts Point, Larchmont and Lochhaven neighborhoods. It ends near Norfolk International Terminals.
Pathway improvements totaling $4 million are coming to the trail. They include more than 500 wayfinding signs with mile markers linked to the city’s emergency dispatch system. Twelve trailhead access points are getting specialized amenities such as bicycle maintenance stations and kayak launches.
The community foundation’s grant will help enhance the Plum Point Park trailhead near downtown Norfolk. In 2020, the riverfront park is getting a fitness obstacle course, walking labyrinth and state-of-the-art playground in a grassy area ringed by the trail. A ribbon-cutting is slated for spring 2021.
The playground “will have equipment unlike anything you’ve ever seen. It will look like a sculpture with sails, steel and rope elements,” White says. “It’s something I’m going to play on, and I’m 40 years old.”
Perhaps the most inviting aspect of the trail is being within a five-minute walk for residents of 28 Norfolk neighborhoods. Venessa August, West Ghent Civic League president, is a frequent trail user along with her husband, Don, and children, Vienne and Corine
August calls the trail “a pipeline for people who prefer alternative methods of transportation.” Her family is often on the trail biking or walking to libraries, restaurants, parks, events or meetings. They use the trail to walk their dog, socialize with neighbors, and exercise or play.
With amenities becoming reality, White already dreams of future expansions. She hopes the trail extends to Norfolk Naval Station and the city’s Berkley and Campostella neighborhoods. One day she hopes it links to Virginia Beach and is part of a regional trail system.
“The trail is much more than just a curving pathway for recreation,” White says. “It’s really a connective thread for Norfolk and the region.”