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Fries birding trail plans move forward

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Fries Town Council has cleared up issues regarding the use of a state grant for the wildlife habitat, and received an update on plans to rebuild the old train depot.

By Patrick Smith

FRIES — A proposed birding trail in Fries is moving forward, as town council members learned at their Dec. 4 meeting.
In November, organizers of the trail brought their plan to council, but town officials were reluctant to give approval without some clarification that a state transportation grant could be used for the project.
Council received a response from consultants the Lane Group concerning the status of the $185,000 Virginia Department of Transportation grant for a birding trail and river walk.
Tom and Delieta Guy, David Phillips and local birding groups are developing the birding trail, part of which would be located on a 10-acre island in the New River close to Fries School.

Rare birds frequently stop along their migration routes at the island, which is about a third of a mile long. The organizers hope the trail will be used by bird watchers and school groups.
The town owns a large parcel of park land on the New River that begins near the dam and old textile mill and continues for about 1.2 miles down the river. Five acres of this land has long been designated as a future birding trail. The site lies between the New River Trail State Park and the river.
 "It offers spectacular views of the river and interesting vegetation that includes massive old growth sycamore and silver maple trees," Guy wrote in a description of the project earlier this year.
This area is well known for the spring migration and summer breeding of uncommon birds like Baltimore and orchard orioles, yellow throated vireos, yellow throated warblers, warbling vireos, bald eagles, ospreys and great egrets.
Town council learned Dec. 4 that an erosion and sediment control permit has already been approved for the project. Requests have been made to issue a general permit and approval of no environmental impact for the stream crossings and wetlands that are part of the trail.
At the November meeting, town officials were unsure how to proceed without advice about the birding trail and a related grant that will cover costs of rebuilding the town’s old train depot as a historical site.
Council also discussed the $800,000-plus grant for the depot project.
According to the response from the Lane Group, the VDOT-requested revisions to the depot plan were to be submitted earlier this month.
If VDOT approves the revisions, that project can be advertised to contractors.
Fries plans to use a state transportation enhancement grant (TEA-21) for rebuilding the town’s train depot as a visitors’ center and history display.
The depot project has been in development for a decade, but has never come to fruition.
Some of the grant money has already been used for trail design, environmental impact studies, permits, mapping and grant administration fees for the depot.