Eight years ago, when Dan Mahon drafted a proposal to establish greenways throughout Albemarle, he never imagined the county would adopt the idea into its comprehensive plan.

He also never imagined speaking about his efforts at a public ceremony, but that is exactly what occurred Friday at Darden Towe Park, where he opened the Old Mills Trail.

“What brought me to landscape architecture is enjoying and creating special places,” Mahon said. “Finding places to reveal is something I’ll always love.”

Many people know the Old Mills Trail as the rough path that follows the Rivanna River near Pantops, but the newly widened and leveled three-mile trail is now wheelchair accessible and connects Darden Towe Park with land near the new Martha Jefferson Hospital.

“This is the trail that will attract visitors,” Mahon said. “If you’re staying at a hotel, visiting downtown, this is the trail for you. This is the one you’ll see on the map.”

Currently, hikers can connect Old Mills Trail to the city’s Rivanna Trail in Riverview Park by crossing at the Free Bridge, but Mahon sees a future in which Old Mills extends south and joins other trail systems.

“One of the goals is to connect to the Fluvanna Heritage and James River trail systems, and to the Lewis and Clark Exploratory Center, too,” Mahon said. “And it’s conceivable that we’ll have this trail cross a bridge at Milton, which would allow us to connect to other areas like Monticello.”

Old Mills Trail is officially opened on Pantops
Credit: Sabrina Schaeffer, The Daily Progress

For now, however, Mahon is pleased with the three new footbridges his crews have built, one named Boyd’s Crossing for Albemarle Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd, who helped ensure the trail’s success in a weak economy.

“We were able to keep working because of all the volunteers and community support,” Boyd said. “We also had to do some creative work with the budget to get funding for the project.”

According to Albemarle spokesperson Lee Catlin, the majority of the project cost was for the three new bridges, which cost approximately $140,000 total.  This money came from a mixture of grants and the capital improvement budget.  Outside funding sources included two state recreation grants.

“We had UVa students, the Day of Caring, the APO service fraternity, the Charlottesville Area Mountain Bike Club and others all volunteering their time and sweat equity over the years,” Mahon said.

But the efforts involved in the trail’s construction were not limited to Albemarle. C&B Construction Services architect Carlos Bustamante learned trail and bridge construction while building pedestrian roads for the World Bank in Peru, and he suggested that the project is larger than the trail itself.

“I’m grateful to have been a part of that project,” Bustamante said. “Thomas Jefferson used that trail, so it’s part of the story of Virginia.”  

And it’s the stories that Mahon sees as the next phase of this project.

“We’ve done the land acquisition and rough-grading phases,” Mahon said, “but it’s the next level of detail that I’m excited about, when you can reveal the smaller stories.

“Beyond the trail we’re celebrating an entire river corridor that will help people understand the area’s history and flora and fauna.”

Slowly but surely, Mahon and his crew plan to continue acquiring land through donation and easement to lengthen the trail south.

“We don’t do condemnations, so it takes a long time to put all the pieces together,” Mahon said.

“Most people don’t know where the property lines are,” he added, “but I can see them all and they all have a story.”

To learn more about Albemarle County’s greenway system, visit: www.albemarle.org/trails/.