On the Eastern Shore, locals hope a 49-mile rail trail will reinvigorate the economy

  • Author: Wyatt Gordon
  • Source: Virginia Mercury
  • Date: 08/12/2020

"Virginia’s rural Eastern Shore has been losing residents for decades, but in one aspect of that abandonment, locals see opportunity.

Last month, Canonie Atlantic, the company which owns the tracks on the Eastern Shore, petitioned the federal Surface Transportation Board to decommission a 49.1 miles long rail line from the town of Hallwood to Cape Charles. If their motion is approved, that stretch of tracks would be eligible to be rail-banked — a legal process by which abandoned railways can be converted into shared-use walking, biking, and roller skating paths.

“It’s exciting to envision the new life that this trail could bring to some of these towns along the rail line,” said Robie Marsh, executive director of the Eastern Shore of Virginia Chamber of Commerce. “People can come and stay in one town and cycle to the next couple of towns to make stops, creating new retail, restaurants, and other attractions. It has great potential to attract new tourists, hikers, and other outdoor enthusiasts as well as improve the quality of life of everyone living on the Eastern Shore.”

Although it will take years for the proposed rail trail to be fully completed, locals are already hopeful the new amenity could help halt or even reverse the peninsula’s decades-long population loss. If current trends persist, the Urban Institute anticipates the Eastern Shore will lose a further 20.89 percent of its population by 2030 — the equivalent of 9,522 residents."

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