VINTON–Roanoke County held the first of two final community meetings on the Explore Park Master Plan at the Vinton War Memorial on January 28.
The purpose of the Open House style meeting, and another scheduled for February 2 at South County Library, was to allow the public one more opportunity to contribute to draft conceptual plans being developed for Explore Park.
Maps were on display at different stations throughout the ballroom at the War Memorial with members of the county staff on hand to answer questions and record comments.
The meeting in Vinton was well-attended with participants of all ages, but with millennials and seniors especially well-represented, and all seeming to be focused on outdoor recreation.
The discussions focused on park circulation, natural inventory, placement of amenities, and long-term development.
According to the county, the draft concepts presented are the result of a six month effort which included community meetings and stakeholder focus groups reaching approximately 230 individuals, and a community survey with 1,137 responses.
Both Scott Ramsburg and Greg Martin from the Roanoke County Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Department, emphasized that the conceptual plan represents a long-term project which will take place over the next two to 20 years in most likelihood. The plan is for slow but steady growth with an emphasis on the nature trails initially.
Plans are in the works for “hiking only” trails, “biking only trails,” and universal trails to accommodate everyone.
Ramsburg expressed appreciation for the many volunteers and organizations throughout the region, as well as local colleges and universities, who have been eager to “jump in and make it happen” in regards to building and maintaining the trails and sponsoring outdoor events at Explore Park.
Vinton artist, photographer, and sculptor Fred Cramer suggested setting aside a space where artists and craftsmen could work and sell their work without a commission being taken by the park administration. Such venues are difficult to find and there are many shelters in the park where they could conceivably work now.
Some of the younger participants suggested additions of cross-country skiing trails, alpine slides, and sooner-rather-than later campgrounds.
Others questioned when connections will be built to the Bedford side of the property where there is space for a natural amphitheater. The answer was that most likely the building of a pedestrian bridge to connect the Roanoke County and Bedford sides is a project in the distant future because of funding. For now the focus remains on the Roanoke County side.
Another planned long-term project is the addition of another entrance to the park in the Vinton vicinity, off of Hardy Road.
The current vision is that the county will fund enough infrastructure improvements (water, sewer, and roads) in the early years of the master plan to attract private investment who can finance the amenities citizens are anxious to see.
The county’s ultimate goal is to develop the park property and activities in such a way that 90 percent of the time the general public will “never pay a dime” to visit Explore Park.
Explore Park is a 1,100 acre facility located on the Blue Ridge Parkway and operated by Roanoke County, Virginia under a 99-year lease established in 2013 with the Virginia Recreational Facilities Authority.
The County contracted with design firm Wallace, Roberts & Todd, engineering firm Balzer & Associates, and ProsConsulting to develop a master plan for the park, which will be finalized and presented to the Board of Supervisors this March.
During recent discussions of Capital Improvement Programs by the county Board of Supervisors, funding for infrastructure improvements to Explore Park is included on the CIP list beginning in 2017. The initial funds will finance water and sewer lines at the park and road improvements which the county believes will help leverage investments from private partnerships. The CIP proposes $800,000 for these projects in 2017 and $1.45 million from 2018 to 2026.
According to Roanoke County Administrator Tom Gates, “FY2017 provides funding for Explore Park to implement the Master Plan and develop public-private partnerships.”
Online resources about the master plan can be found at www.ExplorePark.org/masterplan, including conceptual maps and other documents. Public input is also welcome by phone at (540) 387-6078 or by email at ExplorePark@RoanokeCountyVA.gov.