Sunday, January 29, 2006


Sometimes things are more important than we think. Remember when the internet was in it's infancy? Few could imagine the impact that it would have on the entire world and how we communicate, do business with each other, and entertain ourselves.

On a smaller scale, certain things can be introduced into a community that also impact communication, commerce, and recreation. Don't expect everyone to have the foresight to see it, but the network of shared-use trails and Greenways being constructed and updated throughout the Roanoke, Vinton and Salem areas will have a profound effect on the health and vibrancy of these communities.

This past Thursday in the town of Vinton, a big step forward was taken toward connecting Roanoke and Vinton with the Blue Ridge Parkway. A meeting was held where the National Park Service, Blue Ridge Parkway, and the Roanoke Valley Greenways Commission presented an overview of the proposed trail usage plan, and get further input from the public. User groups represented at the meeting included hikers and equestrians, and a ton of cyclists.

The meeting didn't really tell us much we didn't already know. It seemed to me that the NPS and BRP were testing the waters before taking the plunge. Since there was zero public disapproval expressed over the shared use of trails connecting to the BRP, it is my opinion that the trail plan will move forward sooner rather than later.

The first change we should see is the approval of mountain bikes on the Chestnut Ridge Loop Trail between Mill Mountain and Roanoke Mountain. This would be a demonstration area to prove to the entities involved that we can all get along on the same trails without having major clashes with each other, or with the locals who live close by. Thanks in large part to area mountain bikers (who worked on the trail despite it being off limits to them), the 5 mile loop trail has been brought up to date to more erosion resistant IMBA trail construction standards. This trail system also connects to Mill Mountain Park's expanding network of mountain bike trails and would give the City of Roanoke something to tout to attract young and active new residents.

Second, the BRP will most likely allow pedestrians and cyclists to legally gain entry to the Parkway through the use of many "social" trails that connect to secondary roads that pass beneath and above it. These trails are largely unmaintained and would require the user communities to step-up and provide volunteers to keep these trails in good shape. The BRP's don't ask don't tell policy in regard to "short-cut" or "social" trails was shattered last summer when cyclists were told they could only access the Parkway where motor vehicles do. This was a shocker since folks had been using these unmarked paths for many, many years. Hopefully that will all be behind us soon.

Third, the Greenways Commision should be moving ahead with connecting several local Greenways to the BRP. This will open up some additional BRP access points and provide more folks with an easy "on" to the Parkway.

In addition, some good thoughts about putting the "Park" back in "Parkway" came from folks who are sick of riding on what some motorists think is a race track. The need for lower speed limits and more enforcement was a topic that surfaced in many discussions. I personally don't care how they do it, but the NPS should do something to discourage using the Parkway as a short-cut from Roanoke to Vinton.

Any way you slice it, things are moving forward in regards to providing Roanokers and visitors an awesome network of cyclist and pedestrian freindly trails to enjoy.

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