By Debbie Adams
The Town of Vinton will partner with Blue Ridge Off-road Cyclists (BROC) and Cardinal Bicycle to construct beginner mountain biking trails off of the main trunk line of the Gladetown Loop Trail behind the Craig Avenue Recreation Center (now the Roanoke County Elections Office).
These trails will be available for community members and visitors to walk and ride bikes, as well as become a location for Cardinal and BROC to conduct free mountain bike clinics and bike demos. Construction is anticipated to begin in late fall with a spring 2021 opening date.
Acting Town Manager Pete Peters initiated this project about a year ago in casual conversations with BROC about possible locations within the town for this concept.
“We narrowed it down to the 3rd Street landfill and the Gladetown Loop,” Peters said. “Once the club members spent some time at the existing walking trail behind the Craig Center, it became pretty apparent that this existing trail was the best location to start and build towards. I then began discussions with a few key stakeholders in the Gladetown community; then COVID hit and everything stopped.”
Recently, Peters restarted conversations with the neighbors in Gladetown and felt that there was “enough buy-in to press forward and get serious about planning.” Council members had been briefed on the concept last winter.
The Gladetown Loop Trail, built in 2012, “hasn’t gotten much use as an exclusive walking trail to date, so the Pathfinders for Greenways (who constructed the trail eight years or so ago) and the Roanoke Greenway Commission also feel that this new multipurpose conversion is a good way to increase usage by encouraging locals and perhaps others from around the valley to visit,” Peters noted.
The trail had its beginnings in October 2005 when Gladetown resident Joe Banks asked the Town of Vinton to consider building a trail from the Gladetown community to Niagara Road.
Residents of the Gladetown community, users of the then Craig Avenue Recreation Center, and residents of neighboring subdivisions would be able to use the greenway not only for recreation, but also to walk to Lake Drive Shopping Center and eventually the Wolf Creek Greenway.
Due to its own limited resources at the time, the town submitted a grant application to the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation in 2007 for funding to complete the part of the proposed trail that is on town-owned property and used for a stormwater retention basin. When the grant was not approved, they decided to ask the Pathfinders for Greenways organization to assist the town in building the trail.
In 2009, as Roanoke Greenways Coordinator Liz Belcher and Pathfinders founder Dr. Bill Gordge were siting the land for the trail, it was determined that not all the land was owned by the town.
Town staff discovered that, in order to be out of the wet area, a portion of the remainder of the proposed pathway would have to be built on property owned by Woodland Place, then owned by Tommy and Karen Wood. When the town asked for an easement, the Woods decided instead to donate a triangular portion of their property to the Town of Vinton for the trail.
The Gladetown Loop became a cooperative effort between the town, the Wood family, Roanoke County, the Roanoke Valley Greenway Commission, and Pathfinders for Greenways.
In November 2011, Vinton Town Council held a council meeting in the Gladetown community and presented plans for the trail to residents. Construction got underway in March 2012.
The Gladetown Loop Trail meanders through three-fourths of a mile of what was originally part of the Vinyard farm, owned by Vinton’s founding fathers in the 1700s. Wild turkeys, deer, and other wildlife inhabit the area.
About 20 members of the Pathfinders Midweek Crew not only cleared and built the natural surface trail, they also constructed a bridge along the pathway, since the trail crosses over a spring-fed stream. That project required carrying in 25-foot boards, electric generators, and power tools.
The group is made up mostly of retirees who have the stamina to spend an entire day each Wednesday outdoors, in all types of weather, in all seasons– doing hard, physical labor. The Midweek Crew has saved the Roanoke Greenway Commission many thousands of dollars through the years with their construction efforts in building trails throughout the region.
“The process of laying out a trail does not amount to connecting point A to point B – that makes for one boring trail,” Belcher said when the trail was being designed in 2012. “Constructing a trail is more a work of art, and Dr. Gordge is the artist in charge. He envisions the flow of the trail even when completing the rough layout.
“He finds the interesting rocks and trees in an area and leads the trail to them,” Belcher said. “He puts in curves so that the hiker does not see a long linear path and think about how far they have to go, but curves that make them wonder what is around the bend.”
In announcing the new bike trail project, Peters said, “We aren’t sure of the complete layout or cost yet, although we anticipate that the town may provide a little cash and perhaps some in-kind match to whatever Cardinal and the club can pull together for construction/materials.”
He anticipates “the bulk of the work to be performed by volunteers and we are thinking things might get started on the ground later this fall or early winter, once critters have gone into hiding and vegetation has thinned out a little due to temps.
“This project will be built in phases, with the initial phase likely just a clean-up of the existing trail, followed by a series of small spur trails being built off of the main line,” Peters said. “I am not certain how extensive this may get and if it will spill over onto other properties. It has the potential to be added to over time, although I anticipate it staying within the footprint of the original site for the foreseeable future.”