Back Creek Greenway Gains Momentum

Landscape designer Chris Barlow explains details of the proposed Back Creek Greenway.

Support for a new greenway proposed in southwest Roanoke County seems to be growing, based on the foot traffic at a community meeting held at the South County library this past Monday. The “Back Creek Greenway” section shown would take advantage of the roadwork being done by VDOT on U.S. 221, where the highway is being straightened out and widened to Cotton Hill Road.

 The Roanoke Valley Greenway Commission and the Roanoke County Recreation Advisory Commission has recommended the first phase of the Back Creek Greenway project, which will eventually connect to the Blue Ridge Parkway.

 Those who support the greenway, which would be built under the auspices of Roanoke County Parks, Recreation & Tourism, see it as a way for southwest Roanoke County to offer some of the same outdoor amenities now being promoted successfully in Roanoke City, which has capitalized on the success of the Roanoke River Greenway.

 The section of the Back Creek Greenway shown on conceptual maps at the informal public input session was about a mile long, beginning at the “Harris Curve” on 221, just as the road starts heading up to Bent Mountain. It would hug Back Creek in sections, also utilizing the old roadbed that will be left behind and existing paths along the creek, building a paved greenway that could be used for biking, walking and running.

 At Cotton Hill road it would take a sharp turn to the left, then join two bike lines and a five-foot wide sidewalk that VDOT will build to Monet Lane at the entrance to The Groves/Orchards subdivisions.

Chris Barlow, a landscape designer working as a consultant on the project, said bike/walking lanes would eventually connect along Cotton Hill to the Blue Ridge Parkway as Cotton Hill is widened. Cave Spring supervisor Charlotte Moore has long been a vocal supporter of the sidewalk/bike lane connector to Monet from the rebuilt U.S. 221.

 “This is an absolutely magnificent piece of property,” said Barlow, who noted that VDOT “has been very helpful,” as the project has gotten off the ground. “We’ve been inching along, trying to figure out how to do this.”

 Bikers/pedestrians who take Cotton Hill to the Blue Ridge Parkway could then get off at another connection planned for a greenway that will end at the Merriman Road soccer fields, taking that path through the Starkey Park athletic complex, across Crystal Creek Road to the wetlands trail being built on the South County Library grounds. Or they could double back down Crystal Creek Road to the beginning point of the Back Creek Greenway along 221.

Barlow estimated that would be about a five mile round trip. He envisions bike lanes/sidewalks/paths of some sort making their way to Cave Spring High School in the future.

Suzi Fortenberry, a Roanoke County realtor and developer who claims her subdivision has lost prospects to the city because of the Roanoke River Greenway, also advocates for greenways as a member of the RC CLEAR citizen-led environmental committee.  Fortenberry and Barlow have started a committee to drum up support for the greenway, which will probably need trail building volunteers and private donations to get off the ground.

 “We’re trying to get more citizens involved,” said Fortenberry. “Our goal is to connect it from 221 down to [Route] 419, and then start to connect it throughout the valley. We want to see greenways out this way.”  Keeping local runners and bikers safe – like the Cave Spring cross-country team that now must run on busy roadways –  is one of the group’s major goals.

 Retired physician Kevin Ducey, who lives in the Back Creek area at the foot of Strawberry Mountain, is an avid cyclist who also recognizes the danger of riding along the current 221 roadway. Ducey is very interested in seeing the proposed Back Creek Greenway get off the ground.

 “We love biking out here but because this ‘S’ curve is so dangerous we have to figure out roundabout ways,” said Ducey, “so we don’t bike out there as much as we want to.”

Instead he often heads to Roanoke City for rides on the greenways or up Mill Mountain. Ducey said the young professionals and families Roanoke County hopes to attract are looking for amenities like bike lanes and greenways – projects other localities have already committed resources to.

 Parks, Recreation & Tourism director Doug Blount said the Back Creek Greenway project would require support from the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors. “We’re going through our typical process for parks and recreation,” said Blount. That process included Monday’s meeting, gauging the level of support for such a project. No funding has been identified and a price tag for the project has not been tallied.

 “If we can coordinate with VDOT we’re hoping to minimize any costs,” Blount added. “[That way] it could be done through volunteers and small donations – to make it a reality.” Some south county residents are hoping that reality is not too far off.

(Those who could not attend the community meeting can send their comments on the project to [email protected])

 by Gene Marrano

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