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Roanoke River Greenway

Featured Route: The Roanoke River Greenway

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Roanoke River Greenway Description
The Roanoke River Greenway has always been considered the backbone of the regional greenway and trail network. This 30-mile bicycle/pedestrian path will be the major west-east greenway, making it possible to travel from western Roanoke County near Spring Hollow Reservoir through the City of Salem to the City of Roanoke, Town of Vinton, Blue Ridge Parkway and Explore Park. The greenway will provide linkages to neighborhoods, industrial facilities and business complexes, ten parks, three schools, two sport complexes, Cardinal Criminal Justice Academy, the Blue Ridge Parkway and Montgomery and Franklin Counties. It will be a continuous route for non-motorized transportation where none currently exists. Connections to streets with bike lanes and to Masons Creek, Murray Run, Mill Mountain, Lick Run, Tinker Creek, and Wolf Creek greenways will permit travel north and south.

Currently, almost 9 miles of Roanoke River Greenway are finished and open. One section is a two mile section from the Moyer Sports Complex in Salem to Salem Rotary Park. Almost 6 miles are complete in the City of Roanoke. A small section has also been completed in Roanoke County in Green Hill Park.

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The Roanoke River Greenway has long been recognized in local, regional, and state plans as an important facility for the area. It is included in each locality’s comprehensive plan, the regional greenway and open space plans, and the Virginia Outdoors Plan. The Roanoke River Greenway is a multi-faceted project. All of the master plans include canoe launches, providing access to a river once used for bateau travel. The greenway plans also include historic and environmental interpretive signage, landscaping, mitigation of runoff into the river, and establishment of riparian buffers. This project will provide transportation, safety, health, environmental, and economic benefits to the valley, thus improving total quality of life in the region. The trail is often used for races and fundraising walks and runs. Greenways and trails in other areas have attracted significant tourism business, and the Roanoke River Greenway is expected to be a similar attraction.

A big challenge in completion of Roanoke River Greenway is acquisition of rights-of-way. Local elected officials are reluctant to use condemnation, and approximately two-thirds of the corridor is in private ownership. There are two sections where the north and south side of the river are in different jurisdictions. Officials in the City of Roanoke are willing to justify the acquisition in conjunction with the flood reduction project and are moving forward with both the acquisition and design processes.

A second challenge is the proximity of the railroad to the river. In many places the rail bed drops straight into the river, and often there is a railroad track on both sides of the river. Crossing the tracks and being within the rail right-of-way are both safety concerns for Norfolk Southern. Further dialogue between the localities, the Greenway Commission and Norfolk Southern is needed. Other challenges include flooding and topography, such as cliffs.

Funding is a critical issue for the jurisdictions. While grants have been received every year, additional sources of revenue and innovative funding methods are needed.

Next Steps
For several years there have been suggestions that the Roanoke River be designated a blueway. The Draft 2007 Virginia Outdoors Plan recommends development of the Roanoke River Greenway and Canoe Trail. For approximately half the year the river through the Roanoke Valley has sufficient flow for floating as a water trail. Each of the localities has existing and planned facilities for canoers, kayakers, and fishermen.

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