“City staff, along with numerous volunteers, have worked for several years during the construction project and since the dam was completed to establish new trails and improve existing trails throughout the park,” said Brian Daly, the city’s parks and recreation director.
When the park reopened, staff held a community engagement session to see if there was interest in opening the park to more recreational uses.
Previously, the natural area was a passive recreational space with prohibitions on cycling, running and dogs.
“We think with a shift of rules at Ragged Mountain, we’ll see a lot better opportunities [for mountain biking],” said Sam Lindblom, president of the Charlottesville Area Mountain Bike Club. “There are tremendous connecting corridors to get from trails like the Rivanna Trail out to Ragged Mountain.”
Lindblom spoke at a recent City Council meeting. He said he also represents the Rivanna Trails Foundation and Charlottesville Area Trail Runners.
“Our primary focus is building and maintaining sustainable trails that don’t erode and are open for everyone,” Lindblom said.
One member of the public panned the idea.
“These activities are inappropriate for a natural area,” said city resident Downing Smith. “We have lots of parks where people can run and ride their bicycles, can walk their dogs. This is the only natural area.”
Councilor Bob Fenwick said he was concerned about people who would let their dogs off leashes. He said he knew that would not be permitted, but said animal control officers would not be able to respond to complaints fast enough.
Daly said that already happens in city parks.
“We would just ask folks to follow the rules and be respectful of other trail users,” Daly said, adding that the great majority of people will comply.
Councilor Kristin Szakos said she supports the rule changes but that there needs to be some protections for people who just want to hike.
“I want to make sure that we have plenty of trails in this area that are just for people walking and running,” Szakos said. “I do support the use of bikes up there. There’s plenty of trail to go around.”
“I think it’s really important to understand why these rules were imposed in the first place,” Smith said. “At the time, Ragged Mountain Natural Area was probably the most ecologically significant piece of land anywhere in this region.”
Chris Gensic, the city’s trails planner, said pathways would avoid areas identified by naturalists as containing rare and unique habitats.
Smith said there is a greater need for places where people can experience nature for quiet meditation. She and Fenwick both requested that a public hearing be held before the final vote on the matter to ensure the voices of naturalists are being heard.
“I do have some concerns that we ought to have a public hearing as requested by two council members,” Mayor Satyendra Huja said. “I personally support the new uses and I would be open to a public hearing but not as a way to procrastinate on taking action.”
The public hearing and final action is scheduled to take place Oct. 19.