Liz Belcher will retire in August as the Roanoke Valley Greenway Coordinator after 25 years. She 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. Belcher has been the only employee of the Commission, coordinating with the local governments to build a greenway network.
During her 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.
“It’s been a true pleasure to work with Liz on various trail projects and with the Greenway Commission,” said Vinton Town Manager Pete Peters. “She will certainly leave an impressive legacy with all that she has accomplished, and the entire valley is a better place for having had her at the helm of the greenway movement in our community for the last 25 years.
“It’s gonna be hard to not think of Liz when discussing or using a greenway in the future, as the two are so intertwined,” Peters said. “Personally, I can’t think of a single thing that has made more of a positive impact on Roanoke in the last two plus decades. From economic development to real estate and property values, a healthier citizenry and the overall improvement in the water quality and aesthetics of the Roanoke River, it’s astounding what a positive impact she has made on our community. Thank you, Liz, for all that you have done.”
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.
Belcher 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.
Belcher has served on numerous boards and organizations, including the Roanoke Valley Urban Forestry Council, the Transportation Technical Committee of the Transportation Planning Organization, the State Trails Advisory Committee, the Virginia Outdoors Plan Advisory Committee, the Virginia Trails Alliance, the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club, the Western Virginia Land Trust, and the 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.”
“Professionally, Liz will be hard to be replace; her successor will have big shoes to fill,” said Anita McMillan, director of Planning and Zoning for the Town of Vinton. “I was on the phone interview panel back in 1996 along with Lucy Ellett, Charlie Blankenship, and others, and boy, did we made a great decision hiring her. She is always there whenever I need help with the greenways in the town.”
In the Vinton area, Belcher put together design professionals and volunteers to build the Wolf Creek Greenway pedestrian bridge near Lynn Haven Baptist Church. She was instrumental in getting the Pathfinders for Greenways Midweek Crew to remove silt build-up under the Washington Avenue Bridge throughout the years so that Wolf Creek Greenway users could safely use the greenways from Hardy Road to the East County section without having to cross busy Washington Avenue. She worked diligently with Pathfinders volunteers on building the Gladetown Trail in Vinton. She is always hands-on and in the thick of things.
“On the Glade Creek Greenway Phase II last year, she, along with greenway volunteers Bud LaRoche, Janet Scheid, Tom Berdeen, and John Van Luik, removed/cut down diseased and/or badly-shaped trees by April 15, 2020, before the construction took place to meet time of year restriction for bats,” McMillan said. “Two weeks ago, Liz and a volunteer, Shannon Palmer, removed downed trees along the Glade Creek Greenway from the recent storm events.
“Personally, I will miss Liz very much,” said McMillan. “I am so glad that she will stay in the Roanoke Valley. Liz has gotten to know my son, Jameel, since he was 3 years old and he is now 28 years old; and my daughter, Kiara, who is 22 years old now.”
“We all hate to see Liz retire, but she deserves it!’ said former Vinton Town Council member Janet Scheid. “Liz has been the face of the Roanoke Valley greenway system and she has worked tirelessly to unite the valley with a linear walking trail. There is no doubt in my mind that we would not be as far along as we are without Liz’s dedication and drive.”