Growing The Greenways

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Volunteers work on a two mile trail that will run from Plantation Road to the Tinker Creek Greenway.
Volunteers work on a two mile trail that will run from Plantation Road to the Tinker Creek Greenway.

by Gene Marrano

As Roanoke’s greenway system continues to grow in bits and pieces there is help from volunteers on a regular basis, supplying some of the elbow grease there’s no funding to pay for.  Some of that help is now coming from students, faculty and staff members at Hollins University, where work is now underway on a two-mile trail that will connect to Carvins Cove near the boat ramp. From there serious hikers and mountain bikers can gain access to some of the other 40 miles or so of paths at the reservoir.

The new trail taking shape actually begins off Plantation Road on the north side of I-81, on property owned by Hollins but not actually on campus. Eventually this two-mile trail, which will be a dirt path, will connect to the Tinker Creek Greenway once the link to the Roanoke River Greenway is complete. The Hollins contingent is focusing on the first three-quarters of a mile, which will be about two feet wide on average. A trailhead and parking lot will be built at the Plantation Road site as well.

Greenways Coordinator Liz Belcher – who said it took twelve years for Hollins University officials just to agree to the new trail on their property – may not allow the Tinker Creek greenway to be built on school grounds. If that’s the case a portion of that greenway may just become a sidewalk or roadside path.

That’s an issue for the future; in the meantime about 100 people from Hollins were working on the new two-mile trail last week, along with volunteers from the Pathfinders for Greenways group, mostly retirees that help out on a regular basis.

Kerry Edmonds is the Vice President of finance and administration at Hollins; she noted that the school, Roanoke County and the greenways commission had been eyeing this project for some time: “We first started talking about doing something together 15 years ago. In the last 3 or 4 years we’ve been aggressive about identifying where on our property we could locate a greenway.” Horses will be allowed on the new trail section that runs to Carvins Cove – important because Hollins has a well-respected equestrian program.

The Hollins community outreach program has won national awards and a student run group called SHARE spends time helping people as well; one residence hall at the school is reserved for those interested in service learning and activities. The growing greenway system in the Roanoke Valley and its very existence now on Hollins property is also a selling point for the school.

The Hollins Outdoor program on campus is geared towards students with a passion for recreational activities. “We think this s just another way to connect those activities with something on our property … and the natural beauty of the Roanoke Valley,” said Edmonds.

Hollins graduate student Rebecca Quirk was one of those manning a rake last Friday. “I grew up just doing yard work and being outside. I love to hike and it seemed like the perfect combination of the two … to participate. I’m very excited.”

Greenways coordinator Liz Belcher always hoped that Hollins University would come around, once all the “legalities” were worked out. She hopes the school will help maintain the trail once it is built and connected to Carvins Cove. Students may come and go but staff members who remain behind “can train the next crowd [of students],” said Belcher.

The new path on the Hollins property is “stage one” said Belcher; the Tinker Creek greenway may wind up running alongside a creek adjacent but not on the school’s property. “We’ll see how it goes,” said Belcher. “Very little work,” has been done of the 8 or 9 miles needed to connect the existing Tinker Creek greenway near Fallon Park to the section taking shape at Hollins now, according to Belcher. She foresees a crowded trailhead when the path to Carvins Cove opens, probably this fall.

Hugh Scruggs is one of the Pathfinders for Greenways volunteers and a member of the “midweek crew” of retirees that works on trails around the valley. “It’s always exciting – [and] we do this every week,” said Scruggs, who worked on the Read Mountain trail for a year. He estimated that the Pathfinders group will spend several months on the Hollins project; students may come back again in the fall semester to help finish up.

“Being part of this today is a great thing for our [Hollins] community,” said Kerry Edmonds before she went back to work.