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Editorial: 2021 gifts we're grateful for in Roanoke region

Where the Roanoke and Salem Greenways link

The segment of the Roanoke River Greenway connecting Salem and Roanoke is for now a quiet, uncrowded and peaceful stretch that makes for a pleasant getaway stroll.

A time lapse video turns a leisurely stroll into a roller coaster as we explore the place wheee the Salem and Roanoke Greenway systems connect.

Hopefully the day after Christmas, or the afterglow of whichever holiday you might have celebrated in the weeks leading up to today, finds you in good spirits, able to take at least a moment to appreciate the generosity that family, friends and even strangers can demonstrate. Hopefully you’ve been given ample reason for such a reflection, and provided the same to others.

To put it more succinctly, we hope you’re still feeling the holiday spirit.

For all the stress we’ve collectively experienced in 2021 — a year that, let’s face it, felt much more like an unending director’s cut of 2020 than a year that arrived somewhere more leisurely and warm — there’s still a lot to appreciate from the last 12 months. Some of those things are old, some are new, some likely involved some borrowing and maybe a thing or two was painted blue.

Here’s just a handful, but it’s a handful of things to be happy about.

On May 10, 1869, a ceremonial railroad spike made of gold was driven into the ground during a ceremony that commemorated the completion of the first transcontinental railroad in the United States. On June 20, Roanoke and Salem celebrated a smaller “golden spike” moment with a ribbon cutting dedicating the Barnhardt Creek Bridge, which at last connects two of those city’s Roanoke River Greenway segments, realizing an ambition more than four years in the making.

There are still plenty of ambitions left to be realized as the greenway network continues to develop, as evident by the 2-mile stretch created by the bridge link, which doesn’t yet lead to either of the city’s major greenway systems. Because of that, it’s a quiet, uncrowded and peaceful stretch that makes for a pleasant getaway stroll, so we’re happy to enjoy it as is.

The COVID-19 crisis has not gone away, but live music has cautiously returned, and reminded us how badly we missed it, whether it was Opera Roanoke’s American premiere of a new version of Bartok’s “Bluebeard’s Castle” at Jefferson Center, or Billy Idol at Elmwood Park, still managing to pull off the shirtless look at 66, musing that it was a nice day (or, well, night) for a white wedding.

Moving from music to science, the opening of a 139,000-square-foot addition to Virginia Tech’s Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC in Roanoke will allow that facility to double its staff, expand its cutting edge investigations into matters of the brain and heart, and, cross fingers, increase the possibility of high tech companies in the biotechnology field landing in the Star City to join in on the breakthroughs.

And speaking of Hokies, the flip side of Virginia Tech parting ways with its football coach of the last six years, Justin Fuente, after a troubled season … is that, now, the thousands of Tech fans in this region have a new coach and a new hope. A graduate of Lexington High School who spent the last five years as defensive coordinator for Pennsylvania State University, Brent Pry once dreamed of playing Tech football. Now he gets to call the plays.

(For University of Virginia fans rolling your eyes that even in this puff of an editorial, Virginia Tech football gets coverage, take heart! You, too, will soon have a new football coach to cheer for, Tony Elliott, former offensive coordinator for South Carolina’s Clemson University.)

The New River Valley gets even more news to cheer about with the plans announced in May for the $257 million rail initiative to extend Amtrak service into Christiansburg, and build not just a platform like Roanoke has but a bona fide station. Folks there will have to wait until at least 2025 to enjoy it, but based on Roanoke’s experience, it will be worth the wait.

One train-themed gift that won’t take quite so long: a second Amtrak train could start serving the Roanoke platform as soon as the spring. Taking a passenger train to Washington, D.C., or New York is so much more pleasant than driving or flying there. The thought of more opportunities to have the passenger train experience is delightful.

Meanwhile, Wakanda traveled to Roanoke, courtesy of the Taubman Museum of Art. The art museum, simultaneously 13 years old (in its current extravagant building) and 70 years old (as an institution) really outdid itself with “Afrofuturism in Costume Design.” The exhibition showcases a career’s worth of work by Oscar winner Ruth E. Carter, creator of the costumes worn by the casts of “Black Panther,” “Do the Right Thing,” “Malcolm X,” “Selma,” “Amistad” and other iconic films centered in some way around the Black experience.

If you’ve not seen “Afrofuturism” yet, you really ought to, especially as the museum has matched it with other exhibitions that further explore the imagination-stretching realm of costumes as fine art, and also supply the Star City with a dash of Hollywood glamor.

Is that all that there was to be appreciated from 2021? Not even close. But all good things must come to some sort of end, in our case dictated by deadlines and space on the page. If we’ve left something out that you’re grateful for and you want readers to know about it, by all means write up your appreciation as a Letter to the Editor and zap it to us. In the new year, if we have the space, we’ll be happy to share.

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