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Herndon Blazes New Trail

With link to W&OD Trail, the proposed Sugarland Valley Trail would expand the town's outdoor recreational options.

Nearly 30 years ago, the Town of Herndon approved the construction of the Stuart Woods apartments, and it received an easement in the flood plain behind the new complex for an all-purpose nature trail. Now, some three decades later, the trail is one step closer to becoming a reality.

If the Town of Herndon has its way, the proposed Sugarland Run Stream Valley Regional Trail will stretch 1.1 miles in the valley between the Fairfax County Parkway and the Herndon Parkway. The trail, if built, would provide a connection from the Washington and Old Dominion Railroad Regional Park, better known as the W&OD Trail, at its southern most terminus to an existing Fairfax County trail located in Reston in the north.

Running through the Sugarland Run Valley, the trail project is currently supported by reserve funds in the Capital Improvement Program, according to the Town Planning Commission. The project, said Michelle O'Hare, a comprehensive planner for the Town of Herndon, will be funded through various grants, including the Federal Congestion Mitigation for Air Quality funds. The town is slated to provide matching funds for the federal and state grants, according to the June 17 staff report.

For those runners and bikers accustomed to the straight-as-an-arrow W&OD Trail, O'Hare said the proposed Sugarland Run Trail is full of "fun and interesting turns."

"It looks like a great connection to the W&OD," said Bruce Wright, of Reston, an avid cyclist. "The 8-foot-wide asphalt trail is great. I, for one, can't wait."

<b>A PORTION</b> of the northern half of the trails runs behind the Stuart Woods apartments. Representatives from the complex were on hand Thursday to see the latest plan for the trail. They liked what they saw.

"We are very excited about the project," said Mary Anne Gibson, property manager for Stuart Woods apartments. "We have a lot of bikers who live in our complex, so bringing this trail to our backyard will be great. The easy access will be a big selling point for so many of the young professionals and young families that live here."

"We were satisfied with what we heard tonight," said Bryan Circosta, vice president for Dwoskin Properties, the company that manages Stuart Woods. "We are all big advocates of nature trails, especially if they are so close to our backdoor. It's a big plus that it will link up with the W&OD Trail."

While the town's newest trail will link up with the W&OD, there are no plans for it to attach to the Runnymeade Trail, despite its proximity. "We wanted to keep asphalt trails out of Runnymeade," O'Hare said. "Runnymeade is a nature park and we felt very strongly that it should stay within the stream valley."

Several members of the audience disagreed with the plan's failure to link up with the Herndon nature park. "Runnymeade Park is a destination," said one man. "We are missing an opportunity. By closing off Runnymeade, it is like they are saying to bikers, 'You are not welcome to come here.'"

Construction of the trail is slated to begin in early summer and is expected to last four to six months. "We have the money," O'Hare said. "Now we just need the cooperation of the property owners."

<b>AT THURSDAY'S INFORMATIONAL</b> meeting, O'Hare said that the alignment and plan of the trail is contingent on acquiring easements where the trail leaves town property and travels through private property. "It's always cumbersome to obtain easements or donations of land," she said. "Because of the nature of the grants, all ownership of the entire stretch of trail must be named prior to construction.

"We are doing our best to obtain the property," O'Hare said. "If we can't do it, then we will have to explore alternatives."

As caretakers of the grants, the Virginia Department of Transportation must review and approve all plans for the trail.

The trail is cut in half by Elden Street near the intersection with the Herndon Parkway. Several trail enthusiasts in attendance Thursday night, relayed their concerns about crossing the street at the corner of Elden Street and Herndon Parkway.

"We looked at the possibility of an underpass using the existing culvert," O'Hare said. "Unfortunately, that proved to be too problematic and too costly. The town would like to do an underpass there but that portion of the project has been put off because of funding."

The staff was disappointed, O'Hare said, but she added that common sense ruled out the possibility of a below-ground crossing. "If they want to [cross through the culvert], we won't stop them," O'Hare said, laughing. "The deer do it all the time."

O'Hare said that the town could potentially install "no turn on red" signs for the light at Herndon Parkway and Elden Street.

The southern section of the proposed trail is already an existing gravel trail. Under the current trail plan, the new Sugarland Run Trail would not change its existing alignment, except along the southern most edge behind the Sugar Oaks business property.

The plan calls for the four new bridges and boardwalk planking in wetland areas.