Rolling with the Bike Ambassadors of Virginia’s Capital Trail
As the weather warms, one popular activity is the Virginia Capital Trail. Along the scenic route, “bike ambassadors” provide an important role - for frequent users and newcomers. WCVE’s Ian Stewart has more for Virginia Currents.
Learn More: Find out more about the Virginia Capital Trail.
More than 50,000 people use the 52-mile long Capital Trail each month. Stretching from Richmond to Jamestown, some of the trail’s most enthusiastic riders have taken on the role of “ambassador.”
Ted Hanson: Hello, Hello. Hey, glad to see you out enjoying the trail.
Bike Rider: Yeah, I really do.
Ted Hanson stops to chat with a rider at a bend in the trail near Mile 38. The 72-year-old is one of the Capital Trail’s founding ambassadors. He says the volunteers have four main objectives
Hanson: One is to provide mechanical assistance when needed, such as helping someone with a flat tire or making an adjustment to whatever part of the bike. The other is to call for medical assistance or try to assist medically whenever that’s appropriate.
Hanson says usually it’s minor scrapes, but one time an ambassador got help for a rider with a broken collar bone. They also provide information and directions.
Hanson: And then the fourth is looking after maintenance and the litter collection and making sure trail is in good, safe condition for the users.
Before launching the program here, Hanson studied what other trail ambassadors were doing in other locations, like the Washington and Old Dominion trail. Riding along with Hanson near Four Mile Creek, Hanson said all potential ambassadors go through two training sessions.
Hanson: One is half classroom, telling you what our purpose is, that we’re not policemen, and what are goals are and how we operate. And then we take you out and do two sessions on the trail--similar to what we’re doing today. Orienting you to what to look for, and how to chat folks up and that type of thing.
Part of ‘chatting folks up,’ involves pointing out places to stop and eat along the trail. Cat Anthony is the Executive Director of the Virginia Capital Trail. She says the trail has helped existing businesses and launched new ones, like a shuttle that transports riders.
Cat Anthony: There are businesses being built. At the end, there’s Billsburg Brewery, that was built and the owner said to me ‘You know, I knew there’d be cyclists in my business but I didn’t realize how many. There’s been so many cyclists who’ve helped my business.’ It’s fun to see these pop-up businesses continue to grow.
Billsburg Brewery opened in October of 2017. Owner Dave Baum said while they didn’t open the brewery strictly because of the Capital Trail, he’s been pleasantly surprised by the amount of cyclists. In March, the Brewery will be hosting its first Bike Repair Workshop and in August, they will be hosting a Dualathalon, which is a bike/run/bike event.
Along the trail is a new business that opened in an old country store with a big front porch.
Candace Atkins: My name is Candice Atkins and this is the Fork on Five.
There’s a gallery and they serve breakfast and lunch
Atkins: And have homemade baked goods for the bikers and cold drinks and gatorade and hopefully all the things they like, we’re working on it.
The Capital Trail’s Anthony says 650,000 people used the trail in 2017, including joggers and people taking a stroll or walking their dog. She adds they’re doing a study to measure the economic impact of the trail.
The trail ambassadors keep a close eye on hazards, picking up branches and working with VDOT to get things fixed. Volunteer John Titus has encountered all kinds of cyclists on the trail, from unicycles to the old-fashioned big wheeled bikes known as penny-farthings.
John Titus: We have recumbent bikes, we have a group of vets that meet at Four Miles once or twice a week and they crank out from there in their recumbents. I've had a guy come by on cross country skis on rollers and just wheel down the trail.
Trail ambassadors have met people from all over the world. Gilbert Frey is a retired dentist from Williamsburg. He’s heard bikers speaker Japanese, German and French.
Gilbert Frey: And I can greet people in all those languages and tell them where they can get a beer.
Another volunteer Dean Dunbar says he’s met people from all over the world, including a couple from Germany. The tandem bike riders were looking at a map and trying to find a hotel.
Dean Dunbar: And I said I got you covered--I said you can spend the night at my house. And it ended up being three nights and my wife and I fed them, and housed them and loaned them one of our cars and they did a tour around Williamsburg.
The Capital Trail Bike Ambassadors has about 60 volunteers, and they hope to expand the numbers to more than 100. For trail user Beth Falk, she’s reassured knowing ambassadors are out on the trail.
Beth Falk: If I was by myself, I wouldn’t come out here, I wouldn’t do the whole trail by myself. Knowing that people are monitoring it, that’s helpful to know, I might come out and do it on my own.
The Virginia Capital Trail plans to add more connector routes, including one to Colonial Williamsburg, one to Charles City Schools and eventually, it will link up with the East Coast Greenway, a 3,000 mile bike route from Florida to Maine. And with the expansion, the need for bike ambassadors will grow. For Virginia Currents, I’m Ian Stewart, WCVE News.