For months, construction and landscaping equipment has been chugging along across the river at the west end of Wasena Park in Southwest Roanoke. Countless bikers have buzzed by as soil has been pushed up the riverbanks. This Tuesday, citizens and local officials got a clear look at the result of all this work at ribbon-cutting ceremonies for the new Wasena bridge and a new park named after the late 17th District Del. Vic Thomas of Roanoke.
The park is accessible from Wasena Park by a 215-foot steel pedestrian bridge done in the style of many of the trussed bridges used for railroads in southwestern Virginia. The bridge, a joint effort between the city and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers along with the new park, was described by David Bowers “as friendly and solid as the mountains of Virginia” before he and other officials cut the ribbon on the bridge to allow a crowd of over 100 people to venture over to the new park. The park extends the greenway system to a total of 10 miles and adds outdoor trail fitness equipment such as pull-up bars to the paths so often covered by bikers and runners.
The park, formerly the site of a trailer park court, provides additional benefits beyond extending the greenway. It facilitates a bench cut built by the Army Corps on the bank that pushes the soil up to create a plateau as part of the Roanoke River Flood Reduction Project. The park, which is landscaped, will also serve as a riparian buffer to protect the river from adjacent land use. Riparian buffers are vegetated areas that work to intercept sediment and prevent erosion along streams and rivers.
At the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the park, a number of individuals extolled Thomas personally and politically. Mayor Bowers hammered home again repeatedly that Thomas was “a man of the people.” Mason Powell, who lived in southwest Roanoke in the 1970s, noted how Thomas was the first and only politician that came knocking on his doorstep to introduce himself when running for office.
Former councilmember Rupert Cutler, trained in wildlife management and involved in Virginia environmental policy for decades, put forth the resolution in city council to name the park after Thomas before his final term completed last year. He suggested that Thomas be the park’s namesake due to the latter’s dedication to those who made use of Virginia’s natural resources: “The park land is on the river and he was a great supporter of fishermen.” An angler and hunter, Thomas acquired funds for parks and open space along with fish hatcheries and game wardens during his 31-year stint as a delegate.
Former Del. Dick Cranwell, who served 28 years with Thomas in the Virginia House of Delegates, joked about his colleague’s dedication to conservation efforts. While Thomas’s wife “Dot” always came first in his life, said Cranwell, he also “had a lifelong romance with Mother Nature.”
Bowers noted that even though this project was complete, plans are already underway to extend the greenway to Bridge St. in the Norwich neighborhood. Noting the interconnectivity of the disparate paths, he playfully noted his hope that the Roanoke River Greenway would become an “interstate of greenways.”By Aaron Layman [email protected]