Visitors to the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford will soon be able to enjoy the area’s natural beauty along the newly built Ridgway-Deming Walking Trail.
The nature trail, which has been a work in progress for many years, will be dedicated at 12:30 p.m. June 6 on the 79th anniversary of D-Day.
Over time, Boy Scout troops and at least one Eagle Scout candidate have worked on preparing land for the trail, according to Angela Lynch, the memorial’s director of communications.
The walking trail was included in the memorial’s 2016 master plan as an outdoor walking path that was to encircle three-fourths of the memorial, which sits on 50 acres of land. The trail’s planned location was situated to extend the visitor experience, provide views of the surrounding mountains including the Peaks of Otter, and to preserve the wooded perimeter of the property, as described in the document prepared by Richmond architectural firm Glavé and Holmes.
The trail is named after two D-Day Memorial supporters: Ambassador Rozanne Ridgway and her late husband, Capt. Ted Deming. Ridgway served as an American diplomat during the Cold War and later as an assistant secretary of state. Deming served in the U.S. Coast Guard, according to Lynch.
A groundbreaking ceremony was held in November 2021, with plans to open the trail in June 2022. But construction was put on hold due to a concept redesign that was needed to make the trail more accessible, which resulted in a delay in obtaining construction permits and pushed the opening to this spring, Lynch said. Construction started this February.
The paved walking trail is 0.15 miles long, according to Buck Burton, project manager with Jamerson-Lewis Construction, which was contracted to build this initial portion of the trail. It traverses the woods along the western edge of the memorial’s property, ending near the English Garden section of the memorial.
A late May visit to the memorial revealed a paved entranceway, which was still roped off with caution tape and orange traffic cones. According to Lynch, this area will serve as a gathering place for tours, groups and functions. A seating area with benches is situated near the entrance to the trail, next to a gently sloping curve. From the curve, the trail follows the outer edge of the memorial grounds and is just barely visible through the visitor area’s heavily wooded perimeter.
The cost of the western portion of the trail is estimated to total approximately $587,000. This includes the paved entrance area, planned educational stations, seating areas and pet stations, Lynch said.
The asphalt-surfaced trail meets U.S. Forest Service trail accessibility guidelines, she said. Dogs will be allowed on the trail, though not in the monument area. There is a first-come, first-served on-site kennel facility for visitors who want to view the monument and are traveling with pets. Service animals are always allowed.
The trail currently follows an out-and-back design; there is no trail exit at the end, so visitors must turn around and return to the trailhead. Master plan drawings on the D-Day Memorial website show that the trail is eventually slated to encircle the property, with multiple entrance and exit points.
The plans for the Ridgway-Deming Walking Trail include educational stations, but they won’t be in place when the trail opens Tuesday, Lynch said.
“The walking trail is still a work in progress.” she said. Eventually, she said, they would like to have three educational stations to help explain the history of D-Day.
The western portion of the trail will be finished just in time for the dedication, she said. Currently, there is not a set date for completion of the remainder of the planned trail.
Lynch said that eventually the trail will continue around the eastern end of the memorial, following the monument circle and ending in the memorial’s parking area.
Lynch said many visitors don’t realize that the memorial site covers 50 acres, much of it wooded. The trail will give them a chance to spend time in a natural setting, get some exercise and learn more about Virginia’s history, she said.
John McManus, a National D-Day Memorial board member and a speaker at Tuesday’s commemoration ceremony, said he’s excited to see the memorial grow and develop as a resource for WWII knowledge. He commented on the trail’s planned features and the memorial’s future as a tourist destination, referencing in particular how it can serve children and school groups.
“We’re reaching them in different ways, with the new virtual reality platforms that we’re going to have,” he said. “Things like that are really cool and I enjoy being involved in them.”
Lynch said the open portion of the trail will be used for student programming, such as an upcoming WWII day camp.
April Cheek-Messier, president and CEO of the National D-Day Memorial, mirrors these sentiments regarding vision. She said in an email: “The memorial is focused on expanding educational opportunities with new resources for teachers, students, and visitors.”
This emphasis on education was a key marker in the 2016 National D-Day Memorial master plan.
The memorial saw just over 49,000 visitors in fiscal year 2021-22, Lynch said, an increase of nearly 11,000 from the previous year, when COVID-19 affected numbers. And visitation rates continue to increase, she said. The latest numbers show April visitation is up 14% over the same month last year.
Most of the memorial’s funding comes from contributions and grants, according to tax filings found in ProPublica’s Nonprofit Explorer database. Contributions grew by 119% between 2019 and 2020, increasing by more than $2.5 million. In the fiscal year ending in 2020, the memorial reported a profit for the first time in six years.
The increase in contributions was largely due to an increase in capital campaign contributions, estate giving and general operations giving, Lynch said. The memorial saw an increase in general operations donations following the 75th anniversary of D-Day in June 2019, and another increase in the spring of 2020.
“When the memorial closed for approximately three months during the COVID-19 pandemic, our donors stepped up to sustain operations,” she said.
Lynch said she hopes that the trail will be used by both nature and history enthusiasts. “We anticipate visitors will spend more time at the memorial experiencing this new addition and exploring the memorial in a different way,” she said.
Use of the trail will be included in admission to the memorial, which is $12 for adults. Visitors can save $2 per adult ticket when they make their purchases online in advance of their visit.
79th anniversary of D-Day at the memorial
A commemoration of the 79th anniversary of D-Day will begin at 11 a.m. June 6 at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford.
Gov. Glenn Youngkin is scheduled to speak at the event.
While the ceremony will focus on remembrance, the program also will highlight new research surrounding World War II and its aftereffects.
Author John McManus will read a letter written by Lt. Col. James Rudder, the commander of the rangers who assaulted Pointe Du Hoc in Normandy on D-Day, to the family of one of the soldiers killed that day.
The letter, which expresses condolences to the mother of Cpl. Willie C. Caperton, ends with a sentence of remembrance: “We, with whom he shared his life, ask only now to share his memory that it may inspire us all to the gaining of an early Victory and the making of a lasting peace.”
McManus will sign copies of his new book series, a trilogy that focuses on the Army’s actions in the Pacific during WWII. In early May, he released “To the End of the Earth: The US Army and the Downfall of Japan, 1945,” the final book in the series. McManus is also the host of the “Someone Talked!” podcast, which is entering its second season.
Kevin Hymel, a contract historian at Arlington National Cemetery and an author who has been featured on “Someone Talked!,” will speak about what he believes Gen. George Patton would have done had he been in command in Normandy on D-Day. He will be available to sign the first two books of his series.
The National D-Day Memorial is offering free admission on June 6, with guided tours beginning at 1 p.m.