The Vinton Planning Commission approved the updated 2018 Roanoke Valley Greenway Plan as an element of the town’s Comprehensive Plan at its meeting on August 2.
Roanoke Valley Greenway Coordinator Liz Belcher presented the plan to the commission followed by a public hearing. The plan was passed unanimously and now moves on to Vinton Town Council for a briefing at the meeting on August 21, followed by another public hearing and a final vote on September 4.
The other localities who are part of the service area will be reviewing the plan as well— Roanoke City, the City of Salem, Roanoke County and Botetourt County. The Greenway program that exists today began with the Roanoke Valley Conceptual Greenway Plan in December 1995, developed under the direction of what is now known as the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission (then the Fifth District Planning Commission). In 1997, Roanoke City, Roanoke County, Salem, and the Town of Vinton signed an Intergovernmental Agreement setting up the Roanoke Valley Greenway Commission.
Each locality adopted the 1995 plan into its own comprehensive plan. That plan was updated in 2007. The localities own and operate the greenways and oversee projects; each has staff responsible for management and maintenance. The Roanoke Greenway celebrated its 20th birthday in 2017 and the commission
in conjunction with the five localities and the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission, has worked diligently for 18 months to develop the 2018 Plan with specific goals for the next 10 years. Between 2007 and 2017, the greenways were expanded through $44.4 million in grants and allocations from federal ($31 million), state ($7.8 million), local ($2.7 million) and private ($1.8 million) sources. The system grew from 72 miles in 1995 (1.9 miles of paved paths, 60.5 miles of trails, and 9.6 miles of bike trails), to 188.6 in 2007, to 550.2 miles currently (34.9 miles of paved and surfaced pathways, 380.1 miles of trails, and 135.3 miles of bike routes).
Some of the recent gain has been from Botetourt County joining the Greenway Commission in 2016. The hope is that the Roanoke River Greenway will be completed from Green Hill Park to Explore Park by 2023. The array of amenities along the greenways has increased significantly since 2007, with benches, water fountains, wildflower gardens, Mutt Mitt stations, information kiosks, art sculptures, and bike racks more prevalent.
Belcher said that in the distant past before cell phones, there was consideration of installing phone booths along the trails. Greenways are increasingly recognized as important to attracting millennial employees, promoting health and wellness, contributing to an ecological mindset that helps address environmental issues, and improving quality of life. Local greenways have become a training ground for athletes, a free gym, the place to walk your dog, the place to meet and greet your neighbors, and the thing to show to travel writers and economic prospects (Carilion includes a visit to the greenway for recruits).
The 2018 Plan provides an update on the status of specific greenway routes, documents progress on the 2007 goals and incorporates Botetourt County as a new member. The process of forming the new plan involved six public hearings in 2017 to receive comments from the community, with one held at the Vinton War Memorial, an online survey, meetings with the staff and officials of all the localities (including the all-important maintenance staff ), and a public review of the draft plan at the Berglund Center in April 2018. Priority topics identified as a result of the process include:
• Greenways have become important to the economic vitality of the region, supporting tourism, recruitment, redevelopment, festivals, fitness and a healthy environment—exceeding everyone’ expectations. Greenways are the core infrastructure for the region’s brand, Roanoke Outside
• Greenways and trails are the face of the region for many visitors and potential businesses and should be well marked and well maintained.
• Citizens want a bikeable and walkable community and need expanded signage and on-road facilities to provide connectivity between greenways, neighborhoods, and other destinations.
• All user groups need to practice good greenway etiquette and safe usage practices.
• The growing greenway network requires increasing maintenance budgets to maintain service– a challenge. The vision developed in the updated plan is to keep the Roanoke River Greenway as the backbone of the system, running west to east, and then having north-south routes tying to Botetourt County and to the existing public lands and trail opportunities surrounding the valley.
The greenway network has become an integral part of the bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure for the region with connectivity to neighborhoods via sidewalks, bike lanes, and on-road facilities and should continue to expand. The Town of Vinton designated many connections in the 2018 plan which it would like to see incorporated, including connecting the Gladetown Trail to Niagara Road via Third Street, connecting the Glade Creek Greenway to Mountain View Road via Washington Avenue, and connecting Mountain View Road to the Wolf Creek Greenway via Washington Avenue. Anita McMillan, Director of Planning and Zoning in Vinton, says that a priority for Vinton is to improve bicycle and pedestrian accommodations along major thoroughfares such as Walnut Avenue and Washington Avenue. These corridors are popular routes for bicyclists on their way to the Blue Ridge Parkway from Roanoke City.
During the Vinton Planning Commission meeting, there was discussion of the three phases of the Glade Creek Greenway with Phase 1 complete, Phase 2 in design, and Phase 3 in the conceptual stages. Phase 1 between Virginia Avenue (near PFG) and Walnut (near Fifth Street) was completed in 2017. Phase 2 which will run between Walnut Avenue and Gus Nicks Boulevard along Glade Creek is now under design with construction expected in 2018- 2019. Phase 2 may improve prospects for re-development of Gish’s Mill, according to Planning Commission Chair Keith Liles. The future Phase 3 will extend the greenway on along the creek to Vinyard Park in Roanoke County.
The public indicated in community meetings that they were concerned with connectivity of the various trails, that finishing the Roanoke River Greenway should be a top priority, and that they wanted the greenways to pass through their neighborhoods, but “not too close to my own house.” Members of the Vinton Planning Commission include Liles, Vice- Chairman Dave Jones, Bob Benninger, Bill Booth, and Bob Patterson.
Booth commented that he “could not see anything but pluses for the town, the public– for everyone” with the updated plan. Discussion during the Planning Commission hearing included the Greenway Ambassador Program which includes volunteers who patrol in official vests to encourage common courtesy along the trails, talk to other users, and report maintenance issues. The challenge of flooding along the greenways was also a topic, especially the impact along the Wolf Creek Greenway at the Washington Avenue underpass. Vinton will incorporate the updated plan into its own Comprehensive Plan. This allows more access to grant funding sources in addition to demonstrating the commitment of the locality to the greenway program.
Belcher commended the Town of Vinton for the dedication of the greenway representatives who faithfully attend all meetings and “always speak up” in planning discussions. Dave Jones commented that the Roanoke Valley has gotten out ahead of everyone else in Virginia and the surrounding states in establishing our Greenway program and it “makes our region so much better.” The entire 2018 Plan is available for viewing online at www.greenways.org.