Pandemic prompts increased usage of Capital Trail

The Virginia Capital Trail reported a substantial bump in usage in March compared to the same time last year. (Courtesy of Basket & Bike)

The Virginia Capital Trail has experienced a burst of popularity during the coronavirus pandemic, as people take to the trail in increased numbers in search of some outdoor activity.

The 52-mile bike route that runs from Richmond to Williamsburg logged a 65 percent bump in trail counts last month compared to March of last year, according to an announcement last week from the Virginia Capital Trail Foundation, the nonprofit that operates the trail.

There were about 64,000 trail counts recorded last month. A trail count can be thought of as similar to visitation, though it’s possible for a single visitor to be counted more than once using the trail’s method. The foundation records visitation with sensors placed in specific areas of the trail. It records about 800,000 to 900,000 trail counts per year.

Cat Anthony, the foundation’s executive director, said as people find themselves more isolated with the shuttering of businesses and schools, the importance of the trail to relieve stress and provide a connection to nature is on full display.

“The importance of trails is really showing during this time of crisis,” Anthony said.

The Four Mile Creek area near Dorey Park in Varina, the only trail section in the Richmond area specifically noted in the release, recorded a 62 percent increase.

The increased interest prompted the trail to build and advertise a webpage with safety guidelines for visitors. Guidelines include observance of social distancing, no groups of 10 or more people and avoidance of busy trailheads. It also motivated the trail to put out the call for more donations. Anthony said the trail had received 11 donations since it initially announced the increased visitation in a newsletter April 3.

It cost at least $630,000 to operate and maintain the trail in fiscal year 2019, according to a state study. That figure included expenditures specifically tied to the trail by the foundation (about $400,000), VDOT and some localities.

The Virginia Capital Trail Foundation has three full-time employees who currently work remotely. There haven’t been any furloughs or layoffs, Anthony said. The foundation postponed the Dominion Energy Cap2Cap Bike Ride, which was initially planned for May 9, to Aug. 22.

The pandemic has created disruptions for at least one business that operates on the trail. Basket & Bike, a bike rental and tour company founded in 2015 by Anne Poarch, has temporarily put a stop to group rentals and tours, though it still offers individual rentals on a case-by-case basis, according to its website.

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