Hikers, bikers and joggers now have a safer way to get up Ragged Mountain at Charlottesville’s new Heyward Community Forest. The addition of the 5-acre “Makielski tract” to the 142 acres of recently conserved forestland will allow for an off-road, shared-use path for recreational users in their trek to the top of Reservoir Road. Until now, they had to share the narrow, curvy gravel road with cars and trucks.
Rex Linville of the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) worked with the city on both acquisitions. For the larger piece, the city was awarded a USDA Community Forest Grant, which means that the forest must provide benefits to the community, whether through active forest management, water protections, wildlife habitat, educational opportunities, or public access for recreation. Linville says the addition of the small parcel makes a world of difference in a regional vision of connected public access. “It’s just 5 acres, but when you look at it on a map from a public access perspective, it’s a key piece of the puzzle.”
The tract might have gone to a private, residential buyer if not for the sharp eye of Chris Gensic, City of Charlotteville parks and trails planner. Gensic was busy working with local mountain biking and outdoors groups on trails in the new community forest when he noticed the Makielski’s “For Sale” sign at the top of the road. “It basically would have ended up a tiny private inholding surrounded by all of that public land,” he says.
The city had money left over from the Heyward project, but it wasn’t enough to purchase the extra land. Linville approached the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, which filled the gap with a $65,000 grant from its Preservation Trust Fund. “Without that we would have been really hard pressed to find another source that would have worked in a timely manner,” Linville notes. “It’s a good example of where we needed all of the pieces—willing landowners, federal funding, the city, VOF, private donors, local groups—to make it work.”
Now 147 acres strong, the community forest is in the middle of a larger block of conserved lands that include the Ragged Mountain Natural Area, Albemarle’s future Hedgerow Park, the University of Virginia’s Fox Haven Farms, and Camp Holiday Trails. The forest is already being used and enjoyed, says Gensic. “The mountain biking and hiking communities were so excited; they passed their hat and took care of the trails in the space of about two months,” he says. “It’s really neat to see the user base build their own playground. It’s kind of rare that that happens.”
A trail map is available on the City of Charlottesville’s website.