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TOM LANDON | Special to The Roanoke Times
Water flows through the open concrete channel near the Norfolk Southern East End Shops. Then it returns to a more natural state at the confluence with Tinker Creek in southeast Roanoke.
Monday, April 8, 2013
Q: I was wondering whatever happened to the underground rivers in downtown Roanoke. Thanks!
Kellee Barbour, Roanoke
A: One of the great things I’ve learned since starting this column is that our local civil servants seem really happy to help answer questions like this, so I got in touch with Phil Schirmer, city engineer for Roanoke, who even sent along a photo of an unidentified guy standing in one of our fabled underground rivers.
According to Schirmer, two underground rivers, although they might be more accurately called streams, run beneath the streets of downtown. Their origins are in northwest Roanoke and Roanoke County, and the two join below ground near the Taubman Museum of Art and re-emerge near the Norfolk Southern East End Shops.
If you’ve ever ridden or walked the Lick Run Greenway that runs from Valley View Mall to a spot near Hotel Roanoke, you’ve seen the pretty little stream that gives the greenway its name. Lick Run starts in Roanoke County, flows to the west of Interstate 581 and through Washington Park before going underground along the walkway that connects the Hotel Roanoke to the back side of Roanoke Civic Center.
Trout Run goes below ground at Fifth Street and Loudon Avenue, just west of the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated building off Shenandoah Avenue. It runs below the Coke plant, the railroad tracks, and Norfolk and Campbell avenues before joining up with Lick Run near the Taubman Museum. After flowing through the open concrete channel along the shops, the combined streams return to a more natural state at the confluence with Tinker Creek in southeast Roanoke.
It’s Trout Run that will be affected by the proposed downtown passenger rail platform, which is needed before Amtrak service can be extended to Roanoke, and the estimated cost of repairing, replacing, and/or relocating the culvert is $6.1 million, Schirmer said.
The city does periodic inspections of the underground pipes and culverts. Some are brick and others are concrete, and they generally are 6 to 8 feet wide and 4 to 6 feet tall, with normal water depth of less than a foot. According to the city engineer, they are also all very dark. I saw some small ( 4 to 6 inches) fish and a mallard in Lick Run at the spot where it disappears below ground.
I find myself wishing I could go back in time to the turn of the 20th century and see these streams before the arrival of the railroad and the booming construction that gave us our present downtown, and thinking how cool it would be to have these streams exposed for their entire length. With today’s environmental restrictions, it’s doubtful that the underground redirection of these streams would be allowed . It’s fun to think how different downtown might be without it.
If you’ve never been on the Lick Run Greenway north of Washington Park, I highly recommend it. The running and biking traffic is light compared with the path along the Roanoke River, and I’m always surprised by how quiet and peaceful it can be along the creek and under the trees before you emerge again at Valley View.
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Look for Tom Landon’s column on Mondays. Read the WOYM blog on roanoke.com anytime.
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