By Roger L. Vance
Despite the growth in residential development across much of western Loudoun in the past two decades, vast swaths of the landscape retain their bucolic beauty of rolling farmland and verdant wooded mountainsides, laced with hundreds of miles of country roads. Through the efforts of staunch advocates for conservation and innovative thinking among old-line farm families and young rural entrepreneurs, the banal tide of sprawl has, at least momentarily, receded, replaced by a refreshing revival of a sharing communitarian spirit. Key ingredients to that spirit include a fundamental Golden Rule outlook on life, along with a healthy dose of self-interest. In that environment, we generally find that sharing and doing good for others generally benefits the doer as well as the other.
As a consequence of our scenic beauty and agricultural bounty, combined with the talented farmers, artisans and industrious entrepreneurs who gravitate to and embrace the rural routine, more visitors from near and far look to western Loudoun as the place to get away. Growing among them are those who want to experience our open spaces and enjoy our unique sites while cycling and hiking. On any given weekend, thousands of cyclists and hikers make western Loudoun their destination, typically leaving the established trails to explore and take to the highways, often to the consternation of motorists, some of whom believe the roads only belong to them. Angry and aggressive motorists are a common threat to cyclists, as are drivers simply unaccustomed to sharing the roadway.
The fact is, however, the highways belong to all of us, even though some may not be optimum for cyclists or pedestrians. There is little reason to believe, or desire, that the number of cyclists on our roads will decline. Instead, western Loudouners should take the lead to welcome and encourage cyclists to visit our towns, see our sights and take part in our events and activities.
We can do that, first and foremost, by having a greater awareness of, and a sharing attitude toward, cyclists when we encounter them on our roads. But much more than that, we should be actively working to create a safer and more welcoming environment for cyclists and hikers throughout western Loudoun.
A new initiative on the part of the Town of Hillsboro is designed to take those steps forward by integrating a variety of cyclist- and pedestrian-friendly elements into the Hillsboro Traffic Calming and Pedestrian Safety Project, which has been in the design phase for a decade and is nearing its construction phase. Where feasible, dedicated bike lanes and shared lanes (“sharrows”) will be added on Charles Town Pike—Hillsboro’s historic Main Street—accompanying pedestrian sidewalks, raised crosswalks and other traffic calming features throughout the town.
In addition to these long-planned improvements, the town is now proposing the beginning of a multi-phase bike/pedestrian shared-use path project we are calling The GapWay. Initially, this promenade-like pathway, buffered from the roadway, will connect the town’s new sidewalk system to the Town Hall, Hillsboro Charter Academy, Hillsboro Cemetery and eastward to the Charles Town Pike intersection at Mountain Road (Rt. 690) and the Hillsboro United Methodist Church. This leg of The GapWay will provide safe pedestrian and bike access to and between these civic institutions for Hillsboro residents and visitors alike. But this project will not only facilitate pedestrians and cyclists in Hillsboro, as it will also serve as a safe link for cyclists who now ride from the Lovettsville area to Purcellville and Round Hill via Mountain Road.
With a dozen vineyards and wineries and several bed and breakfasts within five miles of Hillsboro, we envision The GapWay as a linked series of safe shared-use paths that offers pedestrians, hikers and cyclists safe access to these businesses and attractions. Much like the spokes on a wheel radiating from its hub, we envision safe bike and hiking trails that connect our western towns and villages, opening a new avenue for increasing active recreational tourism in the region. With the Appalachian Trail just a few miles west of Hillsboro, and a new state park slated for just four miles north on Harpers Ferry Road, a well-conceived network of shared-use paths will not only create connectivity within northwest Loudoun, but will lay the groundwork for establishing direct links to the existing regional network that includes the W&OD Trail, the C&O Canal Towpath and the Appalachian Trail.
Following this path, of sharing the road and sharing the history and beauty of rural Loudoun, will directly advance and further build upon the efforts and investments so many have already made to preserve and conserve this critical environmental, cultural and economic asset we call home.
[Roger Vance is the mayor of Hillsboro. His column appears monthly in Loudoun Now.]