Long-term plans for the Mendota Trail could include extending the hiking and biking trail into downtown Bristol.
The Mendota Trail Conservancy is currently engaged with Equinox Environmental, a consulting, planning and design firm in Asheville, North Carolina, to develop a master plan for the trail. The rails-to-trails project currently extends 12.5 miles between the city of Bristol and the town of Mendota in Washington County — with about 6 miles currently open to the public.
Only the trailhead and parking area are in the city, but that could change, City Planner Sally Morgan said Monday.
“When they went out for [master plan] proposals, we made sure they included looking at the route. How could it work? Could a trail practically be brought from the trailhead into downtown Bristol? We’re hoping to get a plan of how it could work, recognizing it could take a long time and a lot of money to make it happen.”
The trailhead is at 1051 Island Road, near an Interstate 81 overpass.
Morgan said a city segment would likely be a city-funded project.
“The consultants came out and looked at it. They’re going to give some idea of a preferred route, where the problem areas are — and they are very challenging because you’ve got Euclid Avenue to cross, the old railroad right-of-way, Shearer’s, Commonwealth Avenue extension. You’ve got tight spots and traffic congestion areas. And there is leaving the trailhead at Island Road and getting across that intersection,” Morgan said.
The city failed multiple times to establish the trail, amid lawsuits and opposition from landowners, before donating its land holdings in 2016 to Mountain Heritage — predecessor to the conservancy.
Bob Mueller, a member of the trail’s board of directors, said trail officials support a Bristol segment.
“We would love for the trail to extend from the trailhead to downtown Bristol,” Mueller said. “Long term, we sure hope that will happen. It will benefit the trail, and I think it will certainly benefit downtown Bristol — the idea being [when] people come out to the trail they can continue into town and find a place to stop for lunch or maybe do a little shopping. We think it could really benefit the community to have that other extension. We’re fully in support of that.”
The plan is being funded by a grant from Friends of Southwest Virginia, with monies coming from the Appalachian Regional Commission and Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission.
Equinox has already completed an engineering report to address former railroad trestles along the route, and the full plan is expected to be finished this summer, Mueller said.
In addition to engineering on former trestles and the connector into downtown, the plan is to include signs and access points.
A 5-mile segment from the city to Benhams is open to the public, as is another 1-mile segment on the Mendota end. Work on a trestle in Benhams is now underway.
“The big challenges is the 300-foot trestle that goes across the North Fork of the Holston River. The plan is to start working on that this spring or summer,” Mueller said. “We’re hoping to have close to 3 [more] miles on the Mendota end in another nine months or so.”