by Gene Marrano
By far the most impressive feature of the new addition to Roanoke’s greenway system is the Z-shaped bridge that now spans the Roanoke River behind the 13th Street water treatment plant in Southeast, providing a link between two greenways. That bridge made its official debut earlier this week when the ribbon was cut at the far end of the Tinker Creek Greenway, which is now joined to the Roanoke River Greenway adjacent to the water treatment plant.
Those who park at the 13th Street (Bennington) lot (presently the terminus of the Roanoke River Greenway) will have to connect to the new bridge and the 1.2 mile Tinker Creek Greenway via the road alongside the treatment plant for now; a trail through that property is on the drawing boards but currently road signs will guide runners, walkers and bikers to the Tinker Creek Bridge.
Roanoke City Parks & Recreation Director Steve Buschor said it is now about 7.5 miles from the new Tinker Creek bridge to Vic Thomas Park, at the other end of the Roanoke River Greenway, and about 9 miles from the far end of Tinker Creek (in Fallon Park) to Vic Thomas. Another ribbon cutting for a mile-long extension of the Roanoke River Greenway is scheduled from Vic Thomas Park soon.
Monday morning was all about the Tinker Creek bridge opening however, with 6th District Congressman Bob Goodlatte, Roanoke Mayor David Bowers, City Manager Chris Morrill, Vinton Mayor Brad Grose and other dignitaries present for the ribbon cutting. “This is a great day,” said Buschor.
Bowers, who noted that mayoral challenger Mark Lucas was on hand, joked before making his remarks: “Oh no, not another ribbon cutting.” That was a dig perhaps at Lucas, who has chided Bowers for being too focused on showing up at ribbon cuttings and not more on economic development. “Ribbon cuttings are a ceremony in success,” said Bowers, “Success in opening a new business, creating new jobs, opening a store… and yes, opening a greenway extension.”
Some have already used the greenway extension over the past few months, even though it officially opened on Monday. Bowers noted the beauty of the new bridge and the stretch of the Roanoke River it crosses. Nothing but trees and river can be seen when looking away from the treatment plant. “You just can’t believe that you are in a metropolitan area like Roanoke. It is a pristine, bucolic scene,” said Bowers, The Tinker Creek Greenway will eventually make its way to Carvins Cove.
Bowers, who can often be seen on the greenway with his dog, has been told by constituents that building the greenway system is the “most popular thing that Roanoke has done.”
The mayor also issued a proclamation, honoring Roanoke City Civil Engineer Josephus Moses Johnson Coroma, an African immigrant from Sierra Leone who became a U.S. citizen in 2009. Coroma oversaw construction of the new Tinker Creek bridge as project manager for the city and helped coordinate the communication process for all the entities that had to be involved, including VDOT, the Western Virginia Water Authority, Norfolk Southern, etc. Monday was Coroma’s day in Roanoke City.
Mark Lucas, Bowers’ opponent in Tuesday’s mayoral election, is also a member of the Roanoke Valley Greenways Commission. “I’m a huge fan of the greenways,” said Lucas, who said one of his businesses lost an executive recruit because the valley lacked a strong greenway system about ten years ago. “This is a great way to recruit businesses here.”
Goodlatte, who helped secure the original flood reduction funding from the federal government that kick-started the Roanoke River Greenway project, called the new Tinker Creek bridge “the most challenging engineering effort that I’ve seen on the greenway so far.”
There’s also stonework that has helped form some of the switchbacks in the trail connection to the Roanoke River Greenway. “This greenway system is getting a reputation that goes far beyond the Roanoke Valley,” noted Goodlatte. “It truly is a key economic development tool.” Goodlatte said he looked forward to a “golden spike event” in the near future as the Roanoke River Greenway heads west towards Salem and east towards Roanoke City.
Roanoke County supervisor Charlotte Moore, who has pushed for more of the greenway system to be built in Roanoke County, was also on hand: “I think we’re going to get there one day and have the greenways connected everywhere, from Montgomery County to Bedford.”
After the ribbon was cut many of those gathered braved the rain and cold to walk the new Tinker Creek bridge for the first time. Below on the Roanoke River others were fishing or just taking in the sights.
Neighborhood activist Barbara Duerk, who bikes the greenway system on a regular basis, called the new Tinker Creek extension and the bridge “absolutely fantastic. [It also] breaks down barriers and helps build bridges between communities.”