The first park in the town of Amherst is ripe for trail connections with its next-door neighbor, Amherst County High School, a partnership town and school officials hope bears fruit in recreational and security benefits.
Amherst Town Council voted last year to buy the 7-acre park site on Scotts Hill Road from an entity affiliated with Dave McCormack, a Petersburg developer turning the former Amherst Milling Co. on Union Hill Road into a brewery and restaurant. The town envisions launching a park with trails, a picnic area and an off-leash spot for dogs to roam.
Town Manager Sara Carter addressed the Amherst County School Board during its Sept. 26 retreat at Sweet Briar College on partnering to join trail opportunities near the high school’s wooded edges close to U.S. 29 Business.
“Opening this up is a win-win,” Carter said of the town-schools partnership at a Sept. 24 public meeting on the park’s concept.
The joint use of trails could be achieved by a memorandum of understanding between the town and the school system in upcoming months, according to Carter’s discussion with school officials. Getting more people outside is a way to strive for a healthier, more vibrant community and the park’s close proximity to the school also brings avenues for access, Carter said.
The park, which is still in the planning stages, is a way for residents who don’t have children in the school system to interact with the ACHS property, she said.
“We want to make the high [school] feel much more like part of the community. We want to connect the town and the school,” Carter said.
The town would take responsibility for patrolling the edges of the property adjacent to athletic fields that don’t have much monitoring, she said. Superintendent Rob Arnold said the division welcomes that level of additional security.
“I just think it’s a good opportunity for us,” Arnold said. “This would actually help us by putting more eyes on the trails. It would benefit us.”
Carter spoke of the park’s limitations during a public meeting at the town hall building that drew roughly a dozen people last week. The narrowness of Scotts Hill Road, rolling topography and 60% of it being within a floodplain are barriers to playgrounds, athletic facilities and fields and splash parks.
“This is not a piece of property that is suited for high volume, high intensity uses,” Carter said.
Advantages are the site is not close to houses in considering noise, it has water and sewer access for potential public restrooms and two creeks run through the site, according to Carter. She envisions parking of 20 spaces or less and noted the park is not far from Lancer Stadium and more access could potentially be opened from another entrance area.
Carter was asked during the Sept. 24 meeting if emergency vehicles could access the park through Scotts Hill Road. She said vehicles of a certain size could reach the site and the county’s public safety officials could further review the access.
Amherst resident Ed Carton said it would be nice to have a place in town where people could exercise and jog without pavement and mentioned possibly adding exercise stations there.
“I don’t see the terrain as being a negative,” Carton said.
Carter also spoke of the town’s hope to eventually connect a trail to Sweet Briar College from the Ambriar shopping center, a project that would tie in Centra’s facility immediately above that business hub. She said that idea is on hiatus because of costs associated with moving utility lines and the town has more pressing utility projects in its capital improvement plan.
A proposal on a joint agreement is expected to come back to the school board for trail connections. Chairman Mike Henderson said he recalls the park site as a kid growing up in Amherst and sees the recreational benefit to Amherst as akin to the Blackwater Creek Trail for Lynchburg as a draw.
“That high school, in a lot of ways, is the center of the community,” Arnold said. “We need to treat it as such.”