by Gene Marrano
Just weeks after the bridge connecting the Roanoke River and Tinker Creek greenways was officially opened, the ribbon has been cut on yet another piece of the Roanoke River greenway. The newest segment, about a mile long, begins at Vic Thomas Park (just past Wasena Park). After a jaunt across Memorial Avenue, which will be widened in the future to accommodate two-way greenway traffic, the path dips down along the Roanoke River again near Ghent Park.
Two bridges take users back and forth across the river, following the bench cuts made during the Corps of Engineer’s flood control project, to its new terminus at Bridge Street. More than 100 people showed up for the ribbon cutting, including 6th District Congressman Bob Goodlatte, who has helped secure funding for the flood control project and greenway over the years.
Roanoke City Mayor David Bowers and members of City Council were on hand to cut the ribbon as well, along with former City Council member Rupert Cutler, honorary chairman for the Bridge the Gap campaign. State Senator John Edwards and Roanoke County Supervisor Charlotte Moore – who is pushing for greenway construction in southwest Roanoke County – also helped cut the ribbon.
Also unveiled at the ribbon cutting was a symbolic thermometer, showing that Bridge the Gap has brought in 3.6 million dollars to date. That fundraising effort aims to collect the seven million dollars needed –via grants and private donations – to finish off the last four miles of the Roanoke River Greenway between Salem and Roanoke.
Once that piece is built, and Salem/Roanoke County complete segments stretching to Green Hill Park, the Roanoke River Greenway will be 18 miles long, when the link to the mile-long Tinker Creek greenway is included. Carilion Clinic and Roanoke Cement have been the largest private donors to Bridge the Gap so far, but government grants make up the bulk of what’s been raised. The stretch from the Tinker Creek Greenway’s terminus in Fallon Park to the new Roanoke River greenway segment near Ghent Park is about nine miles long.
Future plans could stretch it from the Montgomery County line to Explore Park; right now the Roanoke River Greenway terminates at 13th Street in Southeast Roanoke, where it connects to the Tinker Creek Greenway via a small detour on streets near the Water Authority treatment plant and the new bridge dedicated recently.
Roanoke Valley Greenways Commission Chairman Mark McClain said that “a whole lot of individual contributions,” have also bolstered Bridge the Gap to date. He’s pleased that in a year-plus more than half the money has been raised so far. The fundraising thermometer may be printed on a banner placed along the Roanoke River greenway, encouraging users to go home and make their own donations.
The City of Salem is engineering a new segment and is finishing up construction on another, according to McClain, while Roanoke is also prepping for a new section. “It’s going to be built in bits and pieces,” noted McClain. Those bits and pieces so far have provided a pretty good stretch for runners, bikers and walkers. “It’s starting to gel – a lot of things are going on now,” said McClain. “We’ve got a section under construction and another will be done soon.” Expect more ribbon cuttings in the next year or two as the Roanoke River and Tinker Creek greenways continue to grow.