DRBA Harvest grant

Sheryl Agee (from left), impact officer and team leader at The Harvest Foundation; Tiffany Haworth, executive director of the Dan River Basin Association (DRBA); and Sonya Wolen, president of the DRBA Board of Directors.

The Harvest Foundation announced it will award $700,000 over five years to the Dan River Basin Association to help make numerous outdoor recreation projects a reality.

DRBA will use the grant for operational costs as it raises additional funds to complete 17 projects detailed in the organization’s 2019 Rivers & Trails Recreational Use Master Plan. The 80-page document is a “green road map” of proposed trails and river access points connecting “natural, cultural, historical and heritage amenities” across the area, the plan states.

An estimated $7 million will be needed to complete everything, including the construction of several new trails and enhancements to many existing amenities, parks and ballfields across Martinsville and Henry County.

DRBA Executive Director Tiffany Haworth called the 5-year plan “extraordinarily unprecedented and ambitious.”

“Basically, it’s the community’s wish list for outdoor recreation, and the Harvest grant will allow us to implement it in an unprecedented timeframe,” Haworth said. “It’s pretty exciting. All of these projects will enhance the outdoor experience in Martinsville and Henry County.”

Major projects include building a continuous trail system connecting Philpott Lake and the communities involved in the Smith River Small Towns Collaborative — Bassett, Stanleytown, Fieldale, and Koehler. The Smith River Blueway, which uses the river as a trail, continues to be developed with signage and needs improvements to the ramps and steps at several access points.

“Some of our trails and river accesses that were put in at this point over a decade ago need to be enhanced and renovated,” Haworth said.

Harvest previously funded DRBA’s 2008-09 Rivers and Trails plan, which first created the Smith River Trail system. As of 2017, it included more than 18 miles of trails and 11 river access points throughout the city and county.

This latest award is in the form of a “challenge grant,” providing two years of funding to DRBA for the initial start-up, with the rest of the funding available in years three through five once the organization reaches certain goals.

Haworth likened the challenge funds to “unlocking a present that we all can enjoy.”

“We’re going to need everybody’s help to get it done,” she said, adding that each project will require holding public input meetings, field work, writing grants, and more.

Fundraising efforts will include offering corporate sponsorships and naming opportunities for certain projects. In addition to funding, when it comes time to actually build the trails and access points, “there are also opportunities to come get your hands dirty and help us do the project. We’re going to require a lot of volunteers,” Haworth said.

In a news release from the foundation, Harvest Impact Officer Sheryl Agee called the challenge grant “a different type of investment for us” and said it has the potential to leverage millions of dollars in returns for the community.

“This was a strong and aggressive proposal from DRBA that ties back to what Harvest and the entire community has been working on for the past decade,” Agee said in the release. “Developing trails, blueways, and other outdoor amenities is a key component to revitalization for Martinsville and Henry County because it attracts new businesses and industry as well as a younger workforce.”

Henry County and Martinsville approved the plan earlier this year and committed to providing nearly half a million dollars of in-kind resources that include trail construction, engineering, mapping, permitting, blueway improvements and more, according to the release.

“Based on the success of the 2008 plan, I believe the implementation of the 2019 master plan will further the economic development strategy for driving business, retirees, millennials, tourists and other visitors to our region,” Henry County Administrator Tim Hall said in a letter supporting the initiative.

Both the 2008 and 2019 master plans were created with public feedback from focus groups, personal interviews, stakeholder meetings, and surveys.

“We definitely start with doing public outreach first, making sure that everyone is on board and excited and has an opportunity to voice any concerns or new ideas for each project that we do,” Haworth said. “We fully understand that these amenities are for public use, so it makes sense that the public have a role in the planning and, in some cases, in the implementation.”

In the release, DRBA Virginia Program Manager Brian Williams cited the economic benefits of outdoor recreation.

“The projects and concepts outlined in the MHC Outdoor Recreational Master Plan are designed to enhance quality of life for our local citizens and be a catalyst for tourism in our region,” Williams stated.

“In communities that focus on building strong recreational assets, such as river access, parks, and trails, there’s a real correlation to economic benefits,” Haworth said. “It can draw businesses to the area who are looking to give their employees good healthy things to do, as well as new residents who are looking for this kind of lifestyle. For our local citizens, it provides these opportunities for free — you can get out and enjoy nature and all the benefits.”

The full Rivers and Trails Master Plan and details on each project can be viewed at danriver.org.

This was the latest of eight grant awards The Harvest Foundation plans to announce throughout December as part of its 2019 grant cycle. This year, the foundation is using a “Grants Map” graphic to unveil the eight projects one by one. Each announced grant takes the shape of an “X” on the map, which is a visual of the Martinsville-Henry County footprint, and additional information about the project can be seen by clicking or hovering over the “X” on the map. Stay tuned on Harvest Foundation’s social media (facebook.com/harvest.foundation.mhc) and website (theharvestfoundation.org) for more information and grant reveals.

Kim Barto Meeks is a reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. She can be reached at 276-638-8801.

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