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Environmental Leader Says People Are Getting The Message

Mark McClain is chairman of the Roanoke Valley Greenways Commission.

by Gene Marrano

The chairman of the Roanoke Valley Greenways Commission, Mark McClain, is optimistic about the Bridge the Gap campaign that will help fund the missing link in the 18 mile long Roanoke River Greenway. Smaller sections that will run from Vic Thomas Park (Bridge Street to Memorial Avenue) and one that will link the 13th Street parking area to the Tinker Creek Greenway will come on-line soon.

That stretch to Tinker Creek, which features the first real hills on the Roanoke River Greenway, involves a L-shaped 600 foot bridge that connects to a section that runs through Fallon Park. The Tinker Creek Greenway is just over a mile long now but will eventually extend 11 miles through Roanoke City and north Roanoke County to Carvins Cove, and even to the Appalachian Trail. “There are a lot of obstacles to that,” notes McClain. The Roanoke River Greenway will eventually extend as well to the Blue Ridge Parkway; engineering is underway.

Another section in Salem under construction will extend about a mile towards a completed section in Roanoke County and is creeping towards Green Hill Park. “It’s been funded,” said McClain, “and they’re looking at the best route for that.”

Bridge the Gap concerns the seven million dollars needed for a four mile stretch in the Roanoke River Greenway that runs from Salem to Bridge Street in Roanoke. “We’ve done pretty well,” said McClain, noting that a third of the funds needed have been collected so far. Grant proposals will help fill the coffers if successful.  An official kickoff for Bridge the Gap will be scheduled soon, perhaps in April. Urban trails are an economic development engine as well, according to McClain, since it’s a quality of life issue. “There are people out there all the time on every section of the greenway.”

Any time there is a trail system in place, “people’s appreciation for the outdoors is enhanced,” said McClain, a former chair of the local Sierra Club chapter and co-founder of the Roanoke Valley Cool Cities Coalition. “Our motto is working together for smart, clean energy,” said McClain of the Coalition, which honored supporters of environmental issues at its annual awards breakfast last Wednesday. “This is one of Cool Cities’ signature programs,” said McClain. Businesses, non-profits, the media and individuals were singled out for their contributions.

Cool Cities and the Sierra Club have also come out in support of the electricity-generating wind turbines proposed for Poor Mountain. “The table is set,” said McClain, noting that Roanoke County has passed an ordinance to make it possible. The expiration of tax credits at the end of 2012 could dampen enthusiasm for such a project however, if not extended by Congress. Reducing dependence on sources of electricity like the coal burning power plants that contribute to poor air quality is “one of the principal benefits,” said McClain of allowing the wind turbine farm to move forward. “There’s a huge environmental benefit.”

The Sierra Club and the Unitarian Universalist Church in Roanoke also launched the Earth Friendly Friday series of presentations in 2005 when McClain was the Sierra Club chair, ++a monthly program on the second Friday of the month related to energy conservation and environmental issues. “It’s been a great program,” said McClain, noting that more than 100 people showed up for the last meeting.

Cool Cities is focused on the impact global warming and climate change is having on the environment. Working on energy and conservation issues at the local level is “one way to deal with that.” McClain said claims that ICLEI and groups like Roanoke County’s citizen-led RC Clear committee want to mandate how people live “had no basis in fact. When you look at [ICLEI, an international organization] you realize that it’s a totally voluntary thing that communities participate in. They provide software and ideas for reducing energy use. It’s a good thing.”

McClain said people locally are becoming more environmentally conscious in general, with groups like Roanoke City’s Clean & Green citizens committee helping to lead the way: “there’s so many things going on now that weren’t six or seven years ago.”

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