By Randi Lemmon
Lemmon is a land planning consultant in Blacksburg.
As the economic development leaders in the Roanoke Valley can well attest, greenways and blueways are viewed as important elements in the creation of communities that can attract innovative and high tech oriented industries. Obviously, other factors are also important, including proximity to a university, good infrastructure (water, sewer, transportation, etc.) quality schools, sound local government , a reasonable tax structure, a low crime rate, an educated labor force and a good climate. The Roanoke Valley offers all of these attributes, but so does the New River Valley region.
Greenways and blueways in the greater Roanoke Valley are used by those communities to tout their quality of life benefits to attract high tech industries and employees. Unfortunately the development of greenways in the New River Valley has been sluggish at best. Although Blacksburg, Christiansburg and to a lesser degree Montgomery County have pursued advancement of the Huckleberry Trail, this greenway project is the only one in this 100,000 population county.
Montgomery County, home to Virginia Tech and its 30,000-plus student population, the VA Tech Corporate Research Center, and the two most robust and growing towns (Blacksburg & Christiansburg) in all Southwest Virginia, should be a leader in the advancement of greenways and blueways, especially given the amount of frontage it possess along both the New River and Little River, two highly popular fishing and canoeing streams.
Giles County, with a population of less than 18,000, has a much more robust greenway and blueway effort including pocket parks in and near the towns of Narrows, Pearisburg, Pembroke and Glen Lyn along the New River. Even the Town of Pulaski and Pulaski County are hard at work to extend a greenway trail from the New River Trail State Park east to Randolph Park near Dublin. Likewise, Pulaski County is pursuing development of a river access park area along the New River across from Bissett Park. Similarly, the City of Radford has developed some nice greenway and blueway trails along the New River.
An earlier Blueway Plan for the New River in Giles County was developed in the mid-1990s. From that planning effort sprang a growing emphasis on the New River as a vital economic asset for their county. More recently, Giles County has aggressively enacted their own New River Water Trail complete with maps and points of interest throughout the County.
This “water trail” is now to be extended southwest to near the base of Claytor Dam in Pulaski County with signage now in the preparation stage. This will help publicize this historic and beautiful section of river.
There has been a written plan in place since 2011 for creation of pedestrian and bike trails linking various Montgomery County communities, yet only the Huckleberry Trail has been developed. No trails are in place to link the growing communities of Prices Fork, Riner, Shawsville and Belview.
One such plan, known as the “Two Valley” connector trail, would eventually link the Roanoke River Greenway in with the Huckleberry Trail and eventually the City of Radford, Pulaski County, Montgomery County and Christiansburg.
In the growing Prices Fork area, several large housing developments are in the early planning stages. The only way for those future residents to reach Blacksburg, Virginia Tech and its Corporate Research Center is to get in their car and travel congested Prices Fork Road into town. However, for more than a decade now, there has been a plan for a Southgate Parkway that would link the Prices Fork community in with the new Southgate interchange off U.S. 460 and the VA Tech campus. That parkway would include a pedestrian/bikeway trail.
Phase I of that planned parkway would connect Merrimac Road to the new Southgate interchange and besides substantially help the traffic congestion along the Blacksburg section of Prices Fork Road. It could also open up a pedestrian/bikeway trail linkage that could be extended into the growing community of Prices Fork. Only two landowners would have to be crossed to affect this one-mile road and trail segment: Virginia Tech and the Virginia Tech Foundation. A road and trail segment has never been more needed in my opinion.
I recommend that this one-mile parkway and greenway trail be a focal point for consideration of VA Tech, the VA Tech Foundation, VDOT, the Town of Blacksburg and the Montgomery Country Board of Supervisors. This combined parkway/greenway merits strong consideration and action.