A Circus Like No Other

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Jeff Lenofsky showed off his trick bike skills at Roanoke’s Outdoor Circus.
Jeff Lenofsky showed off his trick bike skills at Roanoke’s Outdoor Circus.

by Gene Marrano

The first annual Roanoke Outdoor Circus last weekend demonstrated all things outdoors. “We pretty much planned this from start to finish,” said Joe Hanning, an Outdoor Event Specialist for Roanoke City. A few “short months ago,” sitting around a table, it was decided that the valley needed its first ever outdoor sports festival, said Hanning, who is a transplant from Ohio and new to the position.

The Roanoke Outdoor Circus featured bicycle shops, information on local trails, gear from outfitters, trick bike demonstrations by Jeff Lenofsky, plus live music, food and a traveling eco-tour, “The Sustainable Living Roadshow.” Hanning was pleased with the attendance figures at the three-day, free admission event, which was blessed by exceptionally good weather.

Expect more – and bigger – outdoor happenings in the future. “Our goal is to get people off the couch, get them out and recreating,” said Hanning, “having fun in the outdoors.” “There are a number of private organizations that can help a person find their outdoor passion,” said Hanning. He ticked off a list: Mountain Junkies for trail racing, Odyssey Adventures for the more extreme pursuits, the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club, to name a few.

“There’s something for everyone,” noted Hanning, drawn to the area himself from Ohio in large part by the lure of outdoor recreation.  People from outside of Roanoke and even from other states came to the “circus” last weekend, set up on the old Victory Stadium site. “We can leverage our outdoors,” said Hanning of the economic development impact of promoting the greenways, mountain trails, biking opportunities and other recreation attractions in the valley.

Bob Welsh was showing off his River Greenway Bicycle Rental Company. He’s rented bikes in 90-minute stints at Wasena Park this summer. Welsh is about to shut down that  portion of the business for the season, but will have bikes available through the winter at the Cambria Suites hotel, which sits a block off the Roanoke River Greenway.   “People come regularly or bring their guests [to rent bicycles],” said Welsh. “I think the potential is unlimited. The greenway has been proven to spur business, raise real estate values and promote the city.”

Welsh thought the Roanoke Outdoor Circus concept was “wonderful,” in large part because he saw people attend that are not necessarily the outdoorsy type.  “[They’re] being exposed to all the potential of Roanoke,” said Welsh, an avid biker himself and a part time employee at East Coasters Bicycle.

Another draw was the Sustainable Living Roadshow, a caravan of buses and trailers that set up at the Circus, bringing a bit of social eco-consciousness to the weekend. With the Solar Stage, the Solutionary Showcase, the Conscious Carnival, the green marketplace, Activation Village and the like, Ben Harper said the goal was to drive home a point or two while having some fun.

“We are a traveling eco-carnival made up of activists, educators and entertainers.” The group travels in vehicles equipped with bio-fuels, noted Harper, who studied architecture in college and likes sustainable building practices.

“We’ve done a pretty epic tour,” said Harper, adding that part of the Roadshow’s goal this year was to warn people about the possible side effects of genetically modified food. “People don’t know about it,” said the Louisiana native, who has ventured all the way to California over the seven months he’s been with the Roadshow. “We are the guinea pigs… for this food.”

Vince “Blaze” Mier just returned from a through hike of the Appalachian Trail – all 2000 miles plus – and was showing some of the photographs he snapped at the Appalachian Trail Club booth. Mier, who picked up the trail name “Blaze” as he hiked the AT from Georgia to Maine, sees growing interest from Roanokers in walking at least part of the famed trail. Events like the Outdoor Circus can only help.

“People are getting more and more interested,” said Mier. “These events create an awareness, whether it’s [for] biking, hiking or running. There are so many different things to do. Hopefully it just snowballs.”