Commission Recognizes “Greenway Growers”

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Bob Goodlatte gathered with volunteers for a picnic on the new bridge connecting Wasena Park to Vic Thomas Park.
Bob Goodlatte gathered with volunteers for a picnic on the new bridge connecting Wasena Park to Vic Thomas Park.

by Gene Marrano

The Roanoke Valley Greenway Commission held its annual picnic last Sunday, recognizing the volunteer groups that are helping to shape and maintain the valley’s growing system of trails.  Greenways commission chair Mark McClain also singled out corporate backers like Novozymes and Roanoke Cement, which have made “a major commitment to our bridging the gap campaign.”

What “the Gap” refers to is a four-mile section of the Roanoke River Greenway that is not yet fully funded and built. Once in place it will complete an 18-mile continuous segment of the greenway. A public Bridging the Gap campaign will soon be in place, seeking smaller but more numerous donations from the public, after corporate targets and grant money has been identified. (See greenways.org to make a donation.)

Representatives from Roanoke City Council, the City of Salem and Roanoke County were on hand, demonstrating the valley wide effort that is the greenway system. The Roanoke River Greenway goes through each jurisdiction, which is responsible for construction within its boundaries.

Sixth District Congressman Bob Goodlatte, who helped secure federal funding for a Roanoke River flood reduction project to kick start greenway construction, called the efforts to date “a wonderful collaboration of federal, state and local governments. We’re making great progress.”  Logistical problems concerning two bridges that were to take the greenway over the river at Vic Thomas Park towards Salem have delayed the opening of another mile-long segment until next spring – the prefab spans weren’t built in time.

Goodlatte spoke of the ultimate goal for the greenway system – a trail that stretches from Montgomery to Bedford County, with the Roanoke Valley at the center. “Its putting Roanoke on the map,” he noted.

Since the first volunteer recognition picnic in 2002 there have been countless volunteer hours notched, both on the paved greenway system and on unpaved trails built at venues like Carvins Cove, noted greenways coordinator Liz Belcher. Those people have maintained trails, donated or planted trees; they’ve been members of Pathfinders for Greenways, Kiwanis, the local Appalachian Trail Club, the Star City Striders, the Elfin Society from GE, etc.

The Midweek Crew, largely a group of retirees that help build trails, has even been farmed out to surrounding counties. “We are spreading our influence … across the region,” said Belcher. The Midweek Crew can be counted on “anytime there’s something extra to be done,” she added.  Crew member Maurice Turner was recognized as the Volunteer of the Year. Some on the crew are 80 years old or more and were also honored with special calendars.

Eight miles of the Roanoke River Greenway, in the city, Roanoke County and in Salem are finished; six more miles are funded said Belcher. Two-plus miles will be open by the spring of 2012 and other segments are about to be built. There are about six miles where funding is needed. “We’re really focused on the four miles in the middle,” noted Belcher. Roanoke County is also working on several miles that will extend from the 13th Street terminus to the Blue Ridge Parkway.

That would bring it to more than 20 miles, almost long enough for a marathon. “That has been my goal,” said Belcher, who has been running her own marathon of sorts for the past 15 years, trying to drum up support and funding for the urban trail system that has the Roanoke River Greenway as its spine. A connection to the Tinker Creek Greenway coming soon will provide another longer path for bike riding, walking and jogging.

Belcher is also looking for the Bridging the Gap campaign to help cover the 6-7 million dollars needed for that four mile stretch in the middle of the Roanoke River Greenway. About two million has been raised so far; Belcher hopes to secure the rest in the next year or so and be done with construction by 2014.

One aspect that helps when it comes to raising money for greenway construction; “there’s an economic development potential related to the greenway,” said Belcher. “You have to have the business leaders and the elected officials supporting the project to get it finished.” She has no doubt the project is on the right track. “It warms your heart to see all of the people that are out here [on the greenway].”