"Citizen's advocacy is really the precursor to action."
Gerald E. Connolly, Chairman, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors
The Cross County Trail is a strong symbol of community connections for its involved citizens. Hundreds of volunteers give irreplaceable time and talent to county non profits, fire stations, schoolrooms and the Park Authority (the agency's eight nature centers and historic sites boast 700+ volunteers, making it the envy of the nation). And sometimes, citizens blaze trails.
Niedringhaus recalls, "In 1997, I got interested in trails more broadly around Fairfax County. I did my homework. I learned how to do the research in the courthouse and looked up records."
He obtained a large map of the county and highlighted all of the public land green. It was then he saw a continuous green line snaking down from the north to the south across the county with maybe three or four gaps. With friends, he formed a group called Fairfax Trails and Streams and spoke at the park bond hearings in 1998. "I think that was the first time they'd ever had anybody testify for trails," he said. But Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerry Connolly was very supportive and instrumental in keeping the ball rolling at the top. With Fairfax Trails and Streams working from the citizen activist standpoint, it all began to take shape."
"I realized that Fairfax County had a jewel in its midst," Connolly said. "Why not work to connect these existing parcels of land, acquire and obtain needed pieces of property and easements to make one long trail?" The next day he introduced a resolution to create the Cross County Trail. The county's entire board supported it, providing additional resources and obtaining federal support.
Bikers and Riders Jump on Board
Beverly Dickerson, former president of the Hunters Valley Riding Club and a member of Fairfax for Horses, remembers when she first heard of the trail, "The county has been farsighted in setting aside places like this, very proactive in trying to obtain the property and establishing recreational uses."
Randy Kerr of MORE (Mid-Atlantic Off-Road Enthusiasts), became involved in the effort. Kerr said that one interesting aspect of watching the Cross County Trail take shape was the role volunteers played. "It's all about connections," Kerr said. "Bikes, hikers, neighborhood dog walkers. Not only using the trails, but in maintaining the trails. Trails provide obvious benefits throughout the county."
The Trail's Exquisite Stream Valleys
Much of Fairfax County's Cross County Trail lies within green, shaded stream valleys. Off limits to developers, the county's stream valleys support biodiversity and wildlife. It offers a rough Appalachian Trail-like experience. Some of it is stone dust. In some places there is a lot of mud. "People call and complain that there's snow on the trail. Well, we don't plow the trail. Get your cross-country skis out. It's a natural, outdoor environment. It's maintained, but it's not groomed. That's the beauty of it. That's why it's great."Stewards and Stream Valleys - The Trail Takes Shape