The Rivanna Trails Foundation’s (RTF) mission is simple: to create and protect footpaths, trails, and greenways within the Rivanna River watershed.
The foundation began its work in 1992, when citizens in the area organized to create a trail system throughout the greenbelt of the Rivanna River and its tributaries, including Meadow Creek and Moore’s Creek. The trails are excellent for bikers, joggers, and nature lovers alike. There are fishing spots and grassy clearings that are perfect for sighting wild deer, beavers, rabbits, and other wildlife. This community resource is freely accessible to the public. Over the years the trail has gone from uneven dirt paths, gravel roads, and grassy knolls to more robust paths, wide enough for bikes. These upgrades are a result of the work of volunteers who help maintain and build the trail system. Groups such as the University of Virginia’s Madison House continue to support these trails with volunteer days.
UVA intersects with many sections of the trail, notably behind the School of Law and Observatory Hill. These areas are frequently used by students for running, afternoon strolls, or the occasional short-cut. Due to heavy traffic and storms the trails have begun to accumulate trash and debris. Luke Nicholson, a second year student in Madison House is organizing a volunteer day during Earth Week to help clean-up the trails.
“My favorite part of the trail is behind the law school and the opposite side of Observatory Hill, near a narrow slice that goes deep into the forest,” said Nicholson.
Madison House has partnered with the Rivanna Trails Foundation on many clean-up events to help improve and rebuild existing trails. As a non-profit, the foundation does not have a full time staff of trail maintenance workers. They rely mostly on outside groups and volunteers to service over 10 miles of trails throughout Charlottesville.
Last month, the Charlottesville Area Mountain Bike Club volunteered to clean up the stream along the School of Law and behind The Park. The volunteers moved a five-hundred pound bridge upstream to make it more accessible to visitors.
Nicholson believes the trails are an important part of the student experience at UVA: “As students we have access to these trails for exercise, running, nature walks, - we should help maintain them too as members of the community and responsible stewards of our environment.”
A Madison House trail volunteer day typically consists of removing debris such as branches, rocks, and over growth from paths along the trail. Occasionally, the RTF will identify new trails that need to be built to supplement older ones. To do so requires charting out the topographical elevation of the river bank and surrounding area. Then, volunteers use shovels to remove large rocks and flatten the ground to produce an even elevation, with a reduced incline. To traverse wet marsh, volunteers lay down a series of wooden pallets. These improvements help to increase the accessibility of the trail to differently abled individuals.
“Anyone can join and help us with this work. No experience required. It’s also a great learning opportunity, especially for those who appreciate nature and want to help others do the same,” said Nicholson.