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County applies for grant to get trail back on track
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County applies for grant to get trail back on track

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Tobacco barn

A tobacco barn along one of the trails at Booker T. Washington National Monument. Franklin County is continuing efforts to connect the park to a two-mile trail loop through Westlake.

More than four years after it was originally announced, plans to build a new multi-use trail in Westlake are getting are renewed push. The Franklin County Board of Supervisors approved plans last month to apply for a Virginia Department of Transportation grant to move the project closer to completion.

Franklin County applied for a transportation enhancement grant from the Virginia Department of Transportation in the amount of $780,900. If awarded, it would nearly double the grant money the county has been awarded so far for the project.

The trail was first announced in 2017 following a grant for $617,412 awarded to Booker T. Washington National Monument and Franklin County by the Federal Lands Access Grant from the Federal Highway Administration. The grant was created to provide better access to federal lands through funding for alternative ways to access the parks, such as public trails.

Since the original grant was awarded, work on the project has seen multiple delays. The most recent coming with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic early last year the delayed several county projects.

Lorie Smith, Gills Creek District representative, said the trail was one of several projects she pushed to move forward when she came into office in January of 2020. A few short months later the pandemic hit which delayed the trail and several other county projects.

“For various reasons, it was put on the back burner,” Smith said.

Some work has been done on the trail since it was first announced in 2017. Last year, Franklin County hired consulting firm A. Morton Thomas and Associates Inc. of Christiansburg to design the path of the trail through the Westlake area.

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While designs could change, the original plan for the trail is a 2-mile loop with a shorter spur connecting to trails at Booker T. Washington National Monument. It will be 10-feet wide with a surface of crushed gravel cinder and possibly paved in some areas. Prefabricated bridges will be installed at stream crossings along the trail.

The trail is expected to pass by the Runk & Pratt’s senior living communities, the Westlake Towne Center and the Carilion Wellness Center in Westlake. Smith said parking for the trail may be at or near the wellness center.

“I want this project completed for the citizens of Franklin County, and more specifically, my constituents,” Smith said.

Lisa Cooper, principle planner/long-range planning for Franklin County, said the trail is 50% planned so far. She said work is expected to continue planning the trail while the county waits to see if the VDOT grant is awarded to the county.

Cooper said the additional grant funding for the trail was needed due to the slop, terrain and distance of the trail. The funding will allow the county to construct the trail as originally planned without cutting any sections of the trail out of the project, she said.

“We should have asked for more funding in the original grant,” Cooper said.

Recipients of the VDOT grant will be announced in June. If it awarded to Franklin County, Cooper said construction on sections of the trail could begin as early as 2023.

Franklin County is also looking into other grants to assist in funding the trail if the VDOT grant is not awarded. “It’s highly competitive,” Cooper said.

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