About DCR
State Parks
Soil and Water
Dam Safety and


Greenways are open space corridors that can be managed for conservation, recreation, and/or alternative transportation. Greenways often follow natural or existing land or water features such as ridgelines, stream valleys, rivers, canals, utility corridors, abandoned rail lines and others. Although each greenway is unique, most connect recreational, natural, cultural, and/or historic areas. Some greenways are designed for people to use for recreation and non-motorized transportation, while others are designed for wildlife, biodiversity, and scenic beauty. Greenways may be publicly or privately-owned.

Resources that greenways might connect include: schools, playgrounds, forests, parks, historic sites, rivers, neighborhoods, businesses, and wildlife refuges. Linkages vary depending on the landscape and community preferences. Greenways may include features such as hiking, bicycling and equestrian trails, sidewalks, streams and rivers suitable for canoeing and boating, abandoned railroad rights-of-way, utility rights-of-way, scenic roads, and scenic easements.

Greenway benefits are many and varied, including economic, transportation, environmental, health and recreational benefits. Greenways:

  • Connect people, communities, and countryside.
  • Provide for hiking, strolling, biking, picnicking, fishing, and other recreational activities.
  • Provide important open space resources.
  • Link important cultural and historic sites -- fostering greater awareness and appreciation for them.
  • Provide refuge and safe migration routes for wildlife.
  • Provide alternative transportation routes by providing bicycle and pedestrian facilities.
  • Soften urban and suburban landscapes by providing buffers to developed areas.
  • Improve water quality by buffering streams and trapping pollutants.
  • Reduce flood damage and costs related to damage.
  • Increase real property values.
  • Enhance economic development and tourism.
  • Provide close-to-home access to greater proportions of the population than traditional parks.
  • Improve overall quality of life.

Numerous studies have been conducted to show the greenway benefits and impacts. Economic Impacts of Protecting Rivers, Trails, and Greenway Corridors was prepared by the National Park Service and is summarized below. Other studies like The Impact of Rail-Trails, also conducted by the National Park Service, have concluded there are various and numerous benefits to users, local landowners, and trail communities. Although legitimate issues and concerns were raised at the onset of many greenways projects, the study showed that adjacent landowners' fears prior to greenway development proved to be unwarranted. Residents and visitors alike enjoy the benefits of trail use, aesthetic beauty, protected open space, and in some instances, higher property resale values.

Greenways go beyond physical connections and include visual linkages. Under most circumstances, a 300-foot strip of forested area provides an adequate buffer to give a passerby or a homeowner the sense that the area is preserved in its natural state. Furthermore, wildlife experts indicate that a 600-foot corridor is suitable for habitat and provides migratory routes for larger species (deer, fox, etc). Even smaller natural corridors, such as those found adjacent to a stream valley, provide significant visual relief. A greenway of adequate width can effectively hide and buffer residents from more intensive land uses and can protect vital natural and wildlife resources.

Areas that lend themselves to greenway designations are frequently considered unsuitable or undesirable for development; therefore, these lands can often be made available by easements, zoning, or by donation from the owner. This saves local governments from using scarce funding on fee simple acquisition. In cases where fee simple acquisition may be necessary, studies have found real property values adjacent to greenways and parks increased in value. This, in turn, increases local tax revenues and offsets any acquisition costs born by the locality. Proffers from developers often are effective tools for greenway acquisition and development.

State and national surveys continually are finding that walking, bicycling, jogging, hiking and horseback riding are some of the most popular forms of outdoor recreation. The 1992 Virginia Outdoors Survey ranked walking for pleasure the most popular activity based on percentage of households participating (65 percent). Bicycling (31 percent), visiting natural areas (24 percent), jogging (20 percent), hiking/backpacking (15 percent), nature study, horseback riding, four-wheel drive off-road use and fitness trail were within the top 30 activities. Other greenway-related activities such as visiting historical sites, picnicking, and camping were ranked in the top 10.

Greenways also may help meet the growing demand for water-oriented recreation. The 1992 Virginia Outdoors Survey found that water-related activities are considered one of the most sought after types of recreation in the state. Both natural area and active recreation-oriented greenways can help protect water resources and facilitate public access to these areas.

Greenway efforts around the state are increasing rapidly. Examples include the Northern Virginia Greenways project, Metro Richmond Greenways, Loudoun County/Leesburg Greenways Plan, Charlottesville's Rivanna River Greenway, Historic Rivers Greenway initiative in the City of Williamsburg, James City and York Counties, the Roanoke Valley Greenways Plan, the Giles County/New River Greenways Plan, and the Potomac River Greenways Coalition. Significant existing regional and state greenways include the Washington and Old Dominion Trail, New River Trail State Park, and Virginia Creeper Trail. For detailed information related to greenway plans, contact the appropriate Planning District Commission or locality.

Greenway planning: Greenways are created primarily through local or regional initiatives reflecting community needs, defined by the people who create them. Greenways are best formed from cooperative public and private partnerships, including citizen and user groups, government agencies, and private businesses. Greenway planning should begin by establishing a local or regional committee made up of a broad cross-section of the community. The committee may include representatives of potential user groups such as hikers, bikers, equestrians, nature study/birdwatchers, and boaters, fishermen, swimmers, as well as businesses, utility companies, conservation groups, and economic councils.

Successful greenway planning requires dedicated work with many diverse citizens and adjacent landowners, including those opposed to greenways or specific greenway projects. In addition, community leaders and citizens with expertise in planning, safety, security, environmental and liability issues should be included. Effective public involvement of landowners and professionals can address most issues and concerns which would result in a better finished project.

Several publications and resource materials have emerged to deal effectively with greenways planning, design, and implementation, including the public involvement process. Greenways: A Guide to Planning, Design and Development, available through Island Press, is one such example.

One method of greenway planning, the overlay method, begins with an inventory of social, historic, cultural, and natural features. Available land, including utility and railroad rights-of-way (existing and abandoned) is then inventoried to determine the most suitable methods for greenway dedications. Finally, soils and steep slopes are inventoried. The inventory layers are combined in a composite of the region to be used to identify linkages between communities, parks, schools, historic sites, open spaces, and other resources. The final step identifies greenway routes based on linkages. Corridors are prioritized and included in the greenways plan to be adopted by local or regional governments. Map 2 on page 93 identifies trails and greenways.

Once planning is complete, implementation begins. Implementation strategies should be listed in the plan. A successful greenway planning committee can evolve into a strong support group to assist various partners in acquiring, developing, and managing the greenways system.

New opportunities for greenways: The Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) provides new impetus for trail development and maintenance through several programs.

Funded by the National Recreational Trails Act, a component of ISTEA, the Virginia Recreational Trails Fund Program was established to provide and maintain recreational trails and related facilities. Administered by the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), grant funding may be provided to private individuals, organizations or government agencies, but must consider guidance from the DCR Trails Advisory Committee, which advises DCR on trails-related issues. Committee members represent trail user groups including: ATV, bicycle (off-road and paved surface), four-wheel drive, hike (close-to-home and long-distance), equestrian, motorcycle, cross-country ski, and water-related trail use. A minimum of 30 percent of funding annually must be used for motorized recreational trail uses, 30 percent must be used for non-motorized recreational trail uses, and the remaining 40 percent is discretionary. However, preference must be given to projects with the greatest number of compatible recreational purposes and/or that provide for innovative recreational trails corridor sharing. Program funding is not guaranteed; it may not be available each year.

Other provisions in the ISTEA legislation encourage bicycle and pedestrian facilities and a Scenic Byways Program. Renewed interest in, and increased funding opportunities for, youth service programs, youth conservation corps, and urban renewal projects offer great opportunities for affordable greenways development, especially in urban areas. In addition, non-profit organizations such as The Conservation Fund's American Greenways Program and the National Park Service's Rivers and Trails Assistance Program provide technical assistance and grant funding for greenways.


  • Economic impacts of greenways for Virginia should be documented so related tourism can be encouraged. [PN-A]
  • Governments should consider securing stable funding, including public/private partnerships. [PO-E]
  • DCR should consider completing a state trails and greenways plan that may include linkages with trails in adjoining states and beginning implementation by 1998. [PO-D]
  • DCR and the Department of Economic Development should develop a state trail guide to list trails and related groups, organizations, and resources. [PO-B]
  • A stable source of funding would enhance the development of greenways including public/private partnerships. [PO-E]