- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 22, 2015

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - At more than $75 million, the Virginia Capital Trail came with a hefty price tag. But for some businesses along the recently completed bike path that connects Richmond to Williamsburg and Jamestown, it’s already paying off.

“It has definitely kept us alive,” said Bonnie Whittaker, co-owner of Cul’s Courthouse Grille in Charles City, a tiny community about 50 miles from Virginia’s capitol city. “We would not be here if it wasn’t for the bike trail.”

After more than 10 years of planning and construction, crews recently completed paving the 52-mile trail along Route 5 earlier this month just in time for bicyclists and spectators to arrive in Richmond for a nine-day cycling race, the UCI Road World Championships.

Officials hope other restaurants and shops will benefit like Cul’s has as more people begin to use the trail. They also believe the path can help drive much-needed economic development in rural areas.

“We feel pretty sure that over time we’ll start to see coffee shops, bike rentals, bed and breakfasts, those kind of things in the more rural areas that don’t have a whole lot right now,” said Beth Weisbrod, executive director of the Virginia Capital Trail Foundation, which is preparing for the path’s official grand opening early next month.

The total cost for the trail was $75.2 million, with more than $70 million coming from federal funding, said Lindsay LeGrand, a spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation.

Whittaker estimates that Cul’s saw a 35 percent increase in business this summer after the completion of a new section of a trial connecting Chickahominy River Bridge to Charles City, a community of less than 200 people with an economy driven largely by farming and logging.

“It’s to be around for years and do nothing but grow,” Whittaker said of the trail. “It’s probably one of the best things that Richmond has done in years.”

Some residents along the trail, however, haven’t been a huge fan of the idea, said 81-year-old Tamara Walton, a Hopewell resident who was getting ready to head out for a bike ride with her husband on a recent Thursday. Walton said she believes the trail will benefit the community, but she said that other residents thought there were better uses for the money, like schools or roads, and feared trail users would litter their neighborhoods.

But another trail user, Jim Sturgill, said he believes the return on investment for the state and its residents will be significant.

“It’s a big deal,” said Sturgill, who volunteers as a “patrol member” on the trail and helps to enforce the rules and pick up trash. “I think it’s going to attract people from all up and down the East Coast.”


Follow Alanna Durkin at https://www.twitter.com/aedurkin .

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