For a directory of area recreation assets, facilities and organizations, as well as a guide to area golf courses, please views our A-to-Z guide to Roanoke Recreation.
Over the past few years a number of national magazines and websites that track such things have identified the Roanoke Valley as one of the best places to live, work and play. At the top of every list? The bounty of outdoor amenities – and it just keeps getting better.
The Go Outside Festival – GoFest for short – drew more people than ever in its fourth year last October (an estimated 20,000) and the five-year-old Blue Ridge Marathon (every April) has welcomed a larger field every time out. It’s tougher too – changes to the course since its inception have made the full and half marathon more challenging than ever; the new Star 10K brought hundreds more into the fold at the event for the first time last year. In 2014 there were 1,930 registered runners overall (up from 1,734 in 2013).
Roanoke City has responded to that focus by adding employees who target outdoor branding and a growing trail system. Renee Lavin was hired several years ago by Roanoke City Parks and Recreation as a trails specialist, targeting the natural trails (unpaved): “We’re just seeing more people taking advantage of the great resources that the trails are in the area.”
In 2014 Lavin and company introduced the On the Trails duathlon (mountain biking-running) at Carvins Cove, and the Off the Rails mini-triathlon at Fallon Park. Lavin calls Carvins Cove “a great resource for the valley. We really wanted to showcase the trails out there.” More than five miles of new natural surface trails have been built during Lavin’s tenure.
Joe Hanning was also hired by the city to promote the great outdoors – and local activities like the WazUpWidis Urban Race (February) that is run through parking garages and Roanoke’s only 20-story office building downtown. The marketing and outreach coordinator for Roanoke City parks and rec oversees the now four-year-old “Roanoke 100-Miler,” which encourages people to walk, run or bike that many miles or more during the winter months.
“Each year, our 100 Miler Team has excelled by averaging more than 200 miles per person,” says Hanning, who has also launched similar efforts (7 Summits mountain hikes, Great Greenway Tour) that encourage group participation. Hanning now manages May’s Gallop for the Greenways 5K race, created almost a decade ago as a fundraiser for the greenway system.
“All of these events share our [ongoing] goal – to get people off the couch, to create an active lifestyle and community using all of the amenities that Roanoke has to offer,” says Hanning.
There are more new wrinkles ahead for those who love the outdoors – or are just now dipping their toes in the water. Speaking of water, plans for a “blueway” centered on the Roanoke River are just beginning to take shape. (Botetourt County has already turned parts of the James River into a successful blueway, with launch ramps for kayaks and canoes, including one in downtown Buchanan (that’s Buck-hannon, not Bue- cannon for you newcomers.)
Aaron Ewert, one of the developers behind The Bridges mixed-use projects along South Jefferson Street and Walnut Avenue, is working on an access point along the Roanoke River that he plans to have operational in 2015.
“We hope to get ours up and running, as one of the first to get the momentum started [for the Roanoke River Blueway]. It’s for kayaks, canoes, tubes, paddle boards, etc.,” says Ewert, a former soccer goalkeeper for Roanoke College.
Another sign that Roanoke’s outdoor amenities are maturing: what is being called the first full-service outfitter in the valley, Roanoke Mountain Adventures, plans for a spring 2015 opening along the Roanoke River Greenway, in a vintage Wasena neighborhood building that once housed the Virginia Museum of Transportation.
“[We want] to promote the area’s natural resources by providing services that make outdoor activities more accessible to visitors and residents,” says James Revercomb, who will co-own the business with his father Jim. James Revercomb is relocating back from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where he was involved with a similar venture. Look for equipment (kayaking, mountain biking, road cycling etc.), guided tours and transportation to outdoor attractions.
“Jim is a successful businessman who has long felt the region was ignoring one of its greatest assets, the outdoors,” says Pete Eshelman, director of outdoor branding for the Roanoke Regional Partnership. “He now sees an opportunity and is ready to capitalize on it.” The partnership assisted the Revercombs in getting Roanoke Mountain Adventures off the ground.
For those who want to get in better shape before they head outdoors, there are private and public fitness centers (the YMCA, Gold’s Gym, Crossfit, local parks and recreation facilities). Roanoke County’s Green Ridge Recreation Center just off I-581 at Peters Creek Road has drawn more than 280,000 visitors annually in the past two fiscal years, according to Parks, Recreation and Tourism Director Doug Blount. “We are very pleased with the support of citizens in the county and around the valley that use the facilities,” says Blount; “Daily [drop-in] admissions were up from the previous year.”