Liz Belcher will retire in August as the Roanoke Valley Greenway Coordinator after 25 years. Liz began working as coordinator in 1996 when the Greenway Steering Committee was a fledgling organization at the Fifth Planning District Commission. The regional Roanoke Valley Greenway Commission was formally established in 1997 by the City of Roanoke, Roanoke County, City of Salem, and Town of Vinton. Botetourt County joined in 2016. Liz has been the only employee of the Commission, coordinating with the local governments to build a greenway network.
During Liz’s time with the Commission, the greenway network has grown to include over four hundred miles of off-road greenways and trails, with the 1996 Greenway Plan updated twice (2007 and 2018) to reflect the expanded vision for the region. The Roanoke River Greenway, running west to east through the valley, is the backbone of the network, with north-south routes connecting to the public lands encircling the valley. Mason Creek, Lick Run, Tinker Creek, Garden City, Glade Creek, Wolf Creek, and Mill Mountain Greenways provide the core of the north-south routes, connecting to the Blue Ridge Parkway, National Forests, Carvins Cove, Read Mountain, Appalachian Trail, and state preserves.
Liz has been closely involved in protection of these public lands through conservation easements on over 13,000 acres with Virginia Outdoors Foundation and Blue Ridge Land Conservancy. She also helped organize the purchase and donation of lands for Read Mountain Preserve and Hinchee Park.
In 1999 the Greenway Commission and local governments hosted the first Governor’s Conference on Greenways and Trails. That Conference grew into a biannual event and then later into a state-led effort to expand greenway and trail networks statewide and capitalize on the economic impacts of outdoor recreation.
In the Roanoke area, Roanoke Outside was born as part of the Roanoke Regional Partnership’s efforts to build an economy that valued our natural resource assets and to attract businesses, employees, and economic development to a bikeable/walkable community with great outdoor recreation opportunities. Greenways have been the foundational infrastructure for that vision and repeatedly appear in surveys and public input as one of the best things the region has ever done.
Liz has served on numerous boards and organizations, including the Roanoke Valley Urban Forestry Council, Transportation Technical Committee of the Transportation Planning Organization, State Trails Advisory Committee, Virginia Outdoors Plan Advisory Committee, Virginia Trails Alliance, Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club, Western Virginia Land Trust, and Blueway Committee. She has been a speaker for many civic organizations, an adjunct professor at Virginia Tech, and an instructor at Roanoke College and Hollins University.
In addition to the greenway plans, she led development of the first local trail plans for Carvins Cove, the Blue Ridge Parkway, Green Hill Park, and Mill Mountain.
Frank Simms, Chair of the Roanoke Valley Greenway Commission, said that Liz “has been the face of greenways for the region and, although she is often given credit for their existence, this has been a community effort with the Greenway Commission, localities, staff, volunteers, and many, many supporters providing the impetus and expertise to make it happen. We all get great joy from seeing so many people from all walks of life using the greenways, loving the river and streams, and making greenways an integral part of their life and their family. Thanks to Liz Belcher and many partners, the Roanoke Valley Greenway system has become a reality.”
With the announcement of Liz’s retirement, the Greenway Commission will begin the search for a new Coordinator. Questions can be directed to Frank Simms at [email protected]. For further information, see www.greenways.org .