Everyone has at some point received a special gift, one that continues to generate happiness years after it’s given.
In 1991, Peninsula residents received such a gift: The Noland Trail. The Lloyd Noland family graciously delivered the present to the community, and it has had a lasting impact, creating smiles, promoting good health and bringing joy to area families and athletes.
The five-mile trail in Mariners’ Museum Park is a sparkling gem in the city’s crown. In its more than 25 years as one of the area’s premier fitness spots, the trail has not lost its luster. It’s on the upswing and more robust than ever.
“It’s an incredible centerpiece of the community,” says Howard Hoege III, Mariners’ Museum president and CEO. “It’s a really special place.”
The trail, which winds around Lake Maury, has the same physical footprint it had when it was designed. It is dense with thousands of species of trees and plants and is home to many types of birds and animals, including herons, fox, deer, eagles, turkeys and raccoons. It is peaceful, safe and truly beautiful.
A study conducted in concert with Christopher Newport University showed that the trail attracts at least 100,000 visitors a year. And each year, Hoege says, the numbers seem to climb.
“The people who come are diverse. Some are young, some are old. Some come for fitness. Others come to take pictures,” Hoege says. “A lot of people want to come just for the experience.”
Hoege says Mariners’ Museum’s operating budget maintains the trail with money gifted from the Noland family. The Noland gift has been put into an endowment to help maintain the trail.
“Our goal for the trail is to honor the spirit of the Noland family gift. We are stewards of this for the community,” Hoege says. “We want the trail to be a place where individuals and families can sort of check out from their lives and reconnect with one another and commune with nature.”
The Mariners’ has set several priorities for the park, museum and trail. The first is the health and sustainability of resources, including trees, water and wildlife. The second priority is education, and the third is recreation and special events. The museum, whose mission is to “connect people to the world’s water,” is working to build more events around its outdoor resources. In October, the trail will host its first marathon.
“We want to dovetail the museum and the park and challenge people to think about how to engage with all our amenities,” Hoege says.
Ideally, a family will spend a day exploring the museum’s exhibits and then venture out onto the trail for some outdoor fun. The Mariners’ Museum park was recently named one of Trip Advisor/FlipKey’s top 50 garden and conservation sites in the country. It was the only Virginia site named.
“We want to be a destination,” Hoege says. “The more exposure, the better.”
On any given day, the trail parking lot is crowded with cars of people who have come to walk or run the trail.
“It’s awesome to see so many people using and enjoying the trail,” Hoege says. “It’s definitely a part of the culture, lifestyle and story of Newport News.”
It costs about $200,000 a year to maintain Mariners’ Museum Park, including the trail. There are three full-time employees dedicated to the park and the trail. The trail has three official overlooks with awe-inspiring views of Lake Maury, 15 small foot bridges and 14 larger numbered bridges. All of the bridges are original, and with the exception of having to replace a few of their wooden slats over the years, they have maintained their integrity and were found during a recent inspection to be in pristine condition, says Dave Kennedy, trail operations manager. There is also a large group of dedicated volunteers who help maintain the trail, coming out to mark tree roots and keep the trail clean.
The most recent improvement to the trail that most every walker and runner has likely noticed is a total resurfacing of the five-mile course. Erosion had caused problems on the trail, making some spots uneven and unsafe for trail users, Kennedy says. So, the park embarked on a major effort to fix it. It took 550 tons of a clay soil/sand mixture and stone dust to resurface the trail. The employees took the dirt out to the trail, half ton at a time, so as not to have to close large sections and disrupt trail activity. It was finished in the fall.
“The guests have been so supportive and happy,” says Baker McCutcheon, Noland Trail technician. “We received so many compliments. It means a lot how thankful people were.”
Being on the trail is as satisfying to the employees as it is to the public.
“I think it’s the most beautiful part of the city,” Kennedy says.
The caretakers of the trail take great pride in its maintenance and say they know all the work that is done is worthwhile when they see the public getting such enjoyment from it.
“I love getting up in the morning and coming to work. Every day is like Friday. I am really blessed. I love what I do,” Kennedy says. “I see the community embracing the trail more and more. It gives us a lot of personal satisfaction to see such an amazing number of people using the park and the trail.”
TO THE POINT
Noland Trail, Mariners’ Museum Park
Contact: Howard Hoege III, president and CEO