Roanoke Parks and Recreation, in conjunction with the Roanoke Valley Greenway Commission and the City of Salem, hosted a ribbon-cutting and dedication ceremony for the new Barnhardt Creek Bridge and donor plaza on Tuesday, July 20, at the new bridge on Roanoke River Greenway, off Blue Ridge Drive. City officials and staff, greenway volunteers, and citizens gathered to celebrate this “golden-spike moment” for the Roanoke Valley greenways.
The theme of the day was the importance of strong relationships through connectivity and collaboration. In Mayor Lea’s speech, he noted that most of his speaking engagements focus on the City of Roanoke, but he was excited to be talking today about the Roanoke Valley as a whole. “Too often we work in silos with a singular focus, but when we recognize that we’re stronger together, we break down those walls, and instead, build bridges.”
Michael Clark, Director of Roanoke Parks and Recreation, shared similar sentiments of the importance of regional collaboration. “We often talk of building bridges as a metaphor—a passage of ideas, experiences, and diversity to help us better understand each other and ourselves. Behind me is the physical manifestation of that, an actual link between the Cities of Roanoke and Salem.”
In 2012, the Greenway Commission organized a “Bridge the Gap” campaign to secure funding for the “Gap” between Rotary Park in Salem and Bridge Street in Roanoke. Since then, the City of Roanoke and the City of Salem have built 1.5 miles and .6 miles of greenway, respectively, in this area, but they were separated by Barnhardt Creek. This new bridge provides greenway users with over two uninterrupted miles of trail, and links the two municipalities. Along with the bridge, the new Liz Belcher Plaza has been constructed along the Roanoke portion of the greenway. A fierce advocate for greenways, Belcher is retiring at the end of this month after 25 years of public service; it was only fitting that the plaza be named for her.
Additionally, this plaza features a bench and the “Freewheelin” sculpture by artists Nene Roe and Alex Ayers. There is also a donor plaque recognizing those who’ve contributed $50,000 or more to the construction of the greenway. “Greenways have grown because of community support and the willingness of citizens and businesses to put their money where their hearts are. Everyday users tell me that the greenways mean so much to them,” shared Liz Belcher. “On this section of the greenway, we wanted to recognize the importance of private funding, as well as government grants, to greenway construction.” Those donors are Carilion Clinic, Economic Development Authority of City of Roanoke, James A. Meador Foundation, Novozyms Biologicals, Inc., Pathfinders for Greenways, Inc., Roanoke Cement, Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning oRganization, The Beirne Carter Foundation, The Cabell Foundation, The Kirk Family Foundation, The Roanoke Women’s Foundation/ Community Foundation Serving Western VA, and the Virginia Department of Transportation.
Many people and organizations made this connection possible, but keys players include Luke Pugh, Josephus Johnson-Koroma, Hans Musil, and Jim Lorens with the City’s Engineering Division; Roanoke Parks and Recreation Department; the City of Salem Engineering Department; Pathfinders for Greenways and the Mid-Week Crew; the Roanoke Valley Greenway Commission; MB Contractors for construction; Mattern and Craig for structural design; VDOT and the Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning Organization for funding; the Roanoke Arts Commission; and countless donors who helped raise more than $2 million for the greenway’s Bridge the Gap initiative.
Another major step toward connectivity is set to occur this fall. Roanoke will move forward to bid out construction for the new, one-mile section of Roanoke River Greenway between Aerial Way and Bridge Street. Once complete, there will be 11 miles of continuous greenway.