Looking to the future of walking, hiking and biking trails in Charlottesville

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- The people in charge of the Rivanna Trail have a big vision for future trails that focuses on more than enjoying green spaces.

"Go out your door and walk or ride your bike to your job, to shopping to school and to recreation," said Peter Krebs, with the Piedmont Environmental Council.

When it comes to the entire trail system within Charlottesville, that is the ultimate goal, in his eyes.

Besides the Rivanna Trail, there are roughly 10 miles of walking, hiking and biking trails in the city.

Despite the length of the trail system, they're not all connected.

"It's more than annoying you have to drive your car to go for a walk," said Krebs.

Jenny Roe, an Environmental Psychologist at the University of Virginia, says that even just a few minutes a day of "green exercise" can have tremendous health benefits.

"Reduced stress. Reduced levels of depression. Reduced anxiety. It makes us more mentally more alert," added Roe.

Albemarle County and Charlottesville Parks and Recreation officials say that over the last 10 years, the area has seen a large increase in people wanting to spend time outdoors.

Because of the recent spike in interest, creating more trails has become a fixture in the comprehensive plan of both the county and the city.

Dan Mahon, of Albemarle County Park and Recreation, says he's working with developers that now want trails included with their site plans. He adds that's a change of pace from just 10 years ago.

"People want to have that connectivity in their communities," said Mahon. "They know that they're going to have customers and future residents moving in that want to be on a bike route or want to be able to walk to school. That is a major shift.

That desire is what is driving the people at the Piedmont Environmental Council, Rivanna Trails Foundation and more to advocate for additional trails to the area.

They won't be meant for just enjoying nature but also as an active means of getting around the city.

"We would like to see a network that touches neighborhoods, connects schools to workplaces to jobs, to homes to shopping and is truly and is truly a transportation resource," said Krebs.

There are currently multiple projects underway that are helping to bring this vision to life, including a potential trail in the Fifeville neighborhood.

"Try to develop a trail that would run from Tonsler Park out into the Fifeville neighborhood," said Rip Verkerke, the president of the Rivanna Trails Foundation. "It historically was a trail. It's been closed for a long time."

Other trails are also in the works. One project includes a walking path from Old Lynchburg Road, in the county, to Azalea Park in the city.

Another project, which is in the early stages, includes linking the Rivanna Trail westward toward the Ragged Mountain Natural Area where hundreds of acres of natural area exist.

An even more ambitious thought is being able to walk from the Downtown Mall toward Afton and the Blue Ridge Tunnel on the Three Notch'd Trail.

"That project is nearing completion and will be opened in the not too distant future," Verkerke said about the tunnel project.

In terms of the potential trail from Charlottesville to Afton, he says it's "a hugely ambitious project but it's one in our long-range planning that we're really excited about."

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