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At last, a date is in sight to complete the Roanoke River Greenway.
Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Years from now, when the local history of the Roanoke River Greenway is written, lots of names will need to be mentioned. Liz Belcher’s is just one, but the key one: the one who brought it off.
She’s in the process, with a date for completion in sight: 2017. The Roanoke River Greenway remains a work in progress, with Belcher at the helm. But the Roanoke Valley’s regional transportation planning agency’s recent decision to award $12.7 million to the project clears the biggest obstacle remaining to extending the greenway the full 21 miles planned: a sure source of funding.
With more than 12 miles of the greenway built and in use, it already is so popular that its completion can hardly be doubted.
That such a statement can be made is remarkable, considering that when Belcher came onboard as coordinator in 1996, a greenway that traversed the valley — an idea conceived almost 100 years earlier — had been taken up repeatedly and abandoned, never generating the momentum to come to fruition.
Landscape architect John Nolen — an acolyte of the famed designer of New York City’s Central Park, Frederick Law Olmsted — wrote a plan in 1907. One of his ideas was for the city to buy the Roanoke River’s banks and develop a “Riverside Parkway.”
The need to preserve the valley’s beauty in a time of rapid economic growth was apparent at the time to the Women’s Civic Betterment Club, which had brought Nolen to town. But the plan went nowhere. Still, elements of it resurfaced now and then until, in 1995, citizen advocates like Lucy Ellett and Bob Fetzer took up the cause.
They got the valley’s four local governments to pay for one year’s (modest) salary for a greenways coordinator, and, hired Belcher to get it built.
She was the right person at the right time. Belcher has the passion, resourcefulness and tenacity to turn the vision of a few into a reality. And, seeing it, the public has embraced it. The vision thing has taken care of itself.
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