AMHERST — An effort is underway to construct a river access parking lot and trail just below Balcony Falls off Virginia 130 in Amherst County.
The Amherst County Board of Supervisors recently authorized County Administrator Dean Rodgers to apply for grant money to move the Balcony Falls takeout project forward. The county is participating in a Federal Lands Access Program, which is administered through the Federal Highway Administration and provides money to develop safe and adequate transportation access through federal lands. The project area falls within the George Washington National Forest.
The application is for development of construction plans at about $125,000.
The Balcony Falls Access Project will consist of a new entrance driveway off U.S. 501, a new 25-space parking lot, a trail down to the James River, a pedestrian tunnel — seven feet in diameter — under CSX railroad tracks and steps leading to the river.
Friends of Rivers of Virginia, a nonprofit, is proposing the project and has committed a 20% required match up to an amount of $150,000. FORVA has raised $100,000 to date, according to the county.
Jeremy Bryant, the county’s director of community development, said Balcony Falls is a popular spot for river enthusiasts floating from Glasgow into Amherst County.
“The unfortunate part of all that is there’s no real good place to take out,” Bryant said of the need for an access point.
Public safety crews often respond to the area for rescue operations as situations arise, Bryant said. Bill Tanger, of the FORVA’s board of directors, said the new access location would aid any rescue efforts.
Tanger told supervisors the nonprofit has spent about $50,000 on engineering and landscaping costs.
“This project would create a tremendous increase in activity down there … it would also reduce safety issues, people crossing the highway and the railroad tracks and so forth,” Tanger said.
No county money is requested for the project. The county would be responsible for maintaining the facility.
“I think it’s a benefit to everybody,” Tanger said. “We haven’t met anybody opposed to it.”
The project provides river access at a badly needed location and would eliminate numerous pedestrian at-grade railroad crossings currently in use.
Supervisor David Pugh said Balcony Falls is one of the most beautiful places in Amherst County for area residents to enjoy.
“It would be great to have some additional access to the river up there,” Pugh said.
Rob Campbell, of the James River Association, said a Friends group could be formed for helping maintain the access location.
“This site has been sought after for so long by so many,” Campbell said. “To see something like this come through, we would ensure it would be maintained by one group or another … this is a great way to get the project started and moving forward.”
Chairwoman Claudia Tucker said the effort is in line with the supervisors’ goals, values and mission of promoting the county’s natural beauty and recreational opportunities.
“Square in the middle of it,” Tucker said.
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