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Six Steps to Friendly Trails

Great Falls Trailblazers produce a Handbook 2008.

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Eleanor Weck, President of Great Falls Trailblazers

Trails in Great Falls are not exactly what we would like them to be. There are pieces of trails here and there, but many do not connect. The community has spoken, and we look forward to trails from our neighborhoods to our parklands and village center. Yet the formation of an integrated network of trails seems so far away. The Great Falls Trailblazers have heralded the cause of trails since 1999, seeking grants and easements to bring our community's wishes to fruition. The Trail Blazer's Handbook 2008 tells how everyone can do their part in making an integrated trail system a reality in Great Falls. You and your neighbors can do your part to bring trails to Great Falls by following the six steps described in the Trail Blazer's Handbook 2008 ...

Step 1 ā€“ Research: Who owns the land that you would like the trail to cross? You can look up the tax maps and find out who holds title to the land to be a part of the trails system. The Library maps show tax map numbers. Contact County of Fairfax, Maps & Publications, Suite 156, 12000 Government Center Parkway, Fairfax, VA 22035. Or research property ownership online at http://icare.fairfaxcounty.gov.Main/Home.aspx

Step 2 - Obtain Permission: Are the land owners willing to grant an easement to allow individuals to cross their property? Are they willing to let only certain types of uses: horseback riding, hiking, bicycling, pedestrians? If they are concerned about safety, do they know that by Virginia Law, there is no liability for property owners who give permission to others to walk or ride horses or bicycles on their property (Virginia Code 29.1-509). To make a trail permanent, property owners can grant an easement. The easement is recorded on the deed of the property filed with the county. Giving an easement does not reduce the size of your property. If the property owner wishes to claim a tax credit, the value of the property must be assessed. If a Federal grant is obtained, the easement will be purchased, although the property owner still owns the land.

Step 3 - Design/Map Out the Trail: As you work with the permissions granted by neighboring property owners, certain impediments might be raised. If a property owner feels that their privacy will be violated by the trail, the Great Falls Trail Blazers can plant native plants along the trail to screen the house from the trail. If people are concerned with safety, you can explain that thieves shy away from places where there is activity. If the property is along a main road, attractive barriers can be built according to VDOT standards. A safe trail for the users may require that the trail zig zag, so as to avoid a sharp decline due to a steep hill. The optimum trail might not run along the side of the road in certain places.

Step 4 - Clear the Trail: Trails should only be cleared with the landowner's permission (see step 2). Members of Trail Blazers, along with professional landscapers who volunteer their time and tools, can construct natural surface trails when and where requested. (Note: When a trail is close to an elementary school, hard surface is required.)

Step 5 - Enjoy the Trail: The Great Falls Trail System is meant to be people friendly. Our trails are meant to accommodate all-terrain strollers, mountain bikes, and even all-terrain wheelchairs.

Step 6 - Care for and Maintain Our Trails: Natural surface and stone dust trails require mowing twice each year. Sometimes tree limbs need to be pruned. The property owner or HOA usually mows or trims. Great Falls Trail Blazers is happy to assist with ongoing maintenance of our community trail system.

<lst>Eleanor Weck is president and Mary Cassidy Anger is vice president of Great Falls Trailblazers, and Robin Rentsch is a board member.