The idea to create a system of off-road trails originated with the Lake Country Trails Advisory Committee, a group of citizens and local officials who were meeting to create a regional bicycle plan. At a meeting on July 16, 2003 the proposal to form a tax-exempt corporation to acquire abandoned railroad property for the development of a trails system was presented. The name Roanoke River Rails-to-Trails was selected as the localities are all within the Roanoke River Drainage Basin. A request was sent to local governments within the Southside Planning District for appointments to the Board of Directors of the Roanoke Rails-to-Trails Corporation, and to request an initial fee of $50 to cover the cost to form the corporation. Localities from neighboring Charlotte and Lunenburg counties were asked to join through the Piedmont Planning District Commission. In December of 2003 the first Board of Directors meeting was held, officers elected, and Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws were drafted. In December 2003 twelve localities were participating and by December 2004 two additional members had joined the membership.
On February 20, 2004 Roanoke Rails-to-Trails (RRRT) received Certificate of Incorporation from the State Corporation Commission (SCC). (These Articles of Incorporation were revised on August 25, 2004.) On December 7, 2004, RRRT received IRS determination of tax-exempt status as a charitable organization [501 (c) 3].
The RRRT Board selected the name, Tobacco Heritage Trail to reflect the area’s long agrarian history and the region’s principal industry for centuries. A segment of abandoned right-of-way between the towns of La Crosse and Brodnax was targeted as the initial leg of the Tobacco Heritage Trail, as the local governments had acquired this property in the 1970s for public use. The ROW had been utilized for underground transmission lines including sewer and fiber optics. In April 2004, the RRRT obtained Mecklenburg County Industrial Development Authority approval to use their right-of-way for trail subject to a lease agreement.
On April 26, 2004, RRRT President, Sandra Tanner, met with Norfolk Southern officials to discuss plans for trail system & request purchase. Property owner information was assembled and the physical condition of the right-of-way was evaluated in 2004-05. On July 27, 2004, the first public input session on Lake Country Bike and Trails Plan map & the Tobacco Heritage Trail was held.
In December 2004 RRRT received its first grant award–$5,000 from the Bikes Belong Coalition to assist with the construction of a portion of Phase I from La Crosse to Brodnax. Later awards were obtained from VDOT Enhancement Program, USDA Rural Development, Virginia Land Conservation Fund and the Recreational Trails Fund. The National Park Service is also providing advisory assistance through the Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program (RTCA).
Governor Mark Warner came to bat for Southside Virginia and the trails effort with the Virginia Works program. This project included $775,000 for the purchase and development of the Tobacco Heritage Trail. Norfolk Southern agreed to work with Roanoke River Rails to Trails regarding the acquisition of the railroad company’s remaining interest in the abandoned rail corridor in the Virginia counties of Brunswick, Mecklenburg, Halifax, Charlotte, Lunenburg and Greensville. On June 30, 2006 the purchase of approximately 40 miles of the former NF&D from west of Lawrenceville to just east of Clarksville by Roanoke River Rails-to-Trails, Inc. from Norfolk Southern was completed.
At long last in December 2009, the purchase of additional Norfolk Southern-owned abandoned railroad property in Halifax, Lunenburg, Greensville and Brunswick was completed. This included a segment of the former Richmond & Danville in Halifax County. This trail will eventually connect the town of South Boston to the existing Richmond and Danville Rail-Trail in Pittsylvania County, which will ultimately terminate in the City of Danville.
The remaining interest of Norfolk Southern in the former Virginian Railway from Meherrin to Purdy was also acquired. This purchase is located in Brunswick, Greensville, and Lunenburg counties. The property connects to the Virginia Beach Pipeline, which funnels water from Lake Gaston to Suffolk, Virginia.
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