Environment and Outdoors

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Over the past several months, local outdoor recreation areas have seen up to a 200 percent increase in usage. Roanoke County’s Explore Park will host a full day of expanded activities on Saturday while also raising money for Roanoke Outside Foundation’s Project Outside, which will work to maintain popular outdoor areas. WFIR’s Rachel Meell has the story:

10-13 Adventure Saturday Wrap

For more information about Explore Park or Adventure Saturday, click here.

(Public domain photo)

Roanoke, VA – National Park Service officials announced today that a small section of the Blue Ridge Parkway near Roanoke, Virginia is open after temporary repairs were completed to mitigate a small slope failure.  The parkway has reopened from Milepost 115.5 (Explore Park entrance) to Milepost 121.4 (U.S. 220). Park visitors and drivers in this section should anticipate a shifted lane alignment, warning signs, new pavement markings and a regulatory speed reduction to 35 mph.

The Parkway motor road will remain closed to all uses south of Milepost 121.4 (U.S. 220) to Milepost 135.9 (Adney Gap) due to a full road failure roughly one hundred and fifty feet (150′) in length near milepost 128. This complex road failure will require a closure of at least 12 to 18 months. Visitors are reminded that, due to the hazardous nature of this slope failure, this section is closed to all uses including motor vehicles, bicycles and pedestrian

(Public domain photo)

A stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway that’s been closed from Explore Park to milepost 121 – Adney Gap – after a slope failure following heavy May rain will now be repaired and then reopened. The National Park Service says it should take ten days and be completed before the peak of the Fall leaf season – expected late next month. However the Parkway from  121 to Adney Gap milepost 136 is closed for a full road failure and will take 12 to 18 months to repair. (see full release below)

Roanoke, VA – National Park Service (NPS) officials announced that work began todayto mitigate a slope failure that resulted in the closure of the Blue Ridge Parkway from the Explore Park entrance (milepost 115.5) to U.S. 220 (milepost 121.4)The work, which will be completed under a full parkway closure, is expected to take about 10 days, and will allow for the section of parkway from U.S. 24 to U.S. 220 to reopen for the busy fall season. The road will remain closed to all uses south of U.S. 220 (milepost 121.4) to Adney Gap (milepost 135.9).

On May 22, 2020, NPS officials announced heavy rain created multiple road hazards in the Roanoke, Virginia, area of the Parkway that required a road closure from milepost 112.4 to milepost 135.9, from U.S. Route 24 to Adney Gap. The section from Milepost 112.4 to 115.5, at the Explore Park entrance, opened earlier this summer and remains open.  The largest hazard is a full road failure roughly one hundred and fifty feet (150′) in length near milepost 128. This complex road failure will require a closure of at least 12 to 18 months. Visitors are reminded that, due to the hazardous nature of this slope failure, the section of parkway from U.S. 220 (milepost 121.4) to Adney Gap (milepost 135.9) is closed to all uses including motor vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians.

 Updates to the road status will be made when available on the park website at www.nps.gov/blri, via press release and on social media at www.facebook.com/blueridgenps

The Roanoke Outside Foundation has announced a $100,000 campaign to raise money to support and develop outdoor assets and businesses in the Roanoke Region. “Project Outside” is a described as a community fund to support outdoor capital improvement projects, maintain key outdoor assets, and to help launch and support businesses in the outdoor sector. Pete Eshelman is the Foundation’s director; he says Project Outside will be an ongoing fundraising and grant campaign – targeted towards the larger outdoor parks and amenities in the Roanoke Region:

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(release from Roanoke Outside Foundation) the Roanoke Outside Foundation, a program of the Roanoke Regional Partnership, announces a $100,000 campaign to raise money to support, develop, and foster outdoor assets and businesses in the Roanoke Region.  Project Outside is a community fund created by businesses, governments, and individuals to support outdoor capital improvement projects, maintain key outdoor assets, and help launch and support businesses in the outdoor sector. It is a partnership between the Roanoke Outside Foundation and land managers (i.e. local governments, ATC, NPS, etc.) of identified regional outdoor assets. Project Outside funds will be used to fill maintenance funding gaps in projects or initiatives and pool resources to tackle new outdoor infrastructure projects. 

“We have to ensure that we don’t love our outdoor assets to death,” said Pete Eshelman of the Roanoke Outside Foundation. “The COVID-19 pandemic has made that even more apparent with local recreation areas seeing an upwards of 200% increase in usage. “While it seems that we should be celebrating the fact that more people in our region are getting outside and enjoying all the natural assets we’ve worked so hard to promote, it’s actually generating even more wear and tear. Parks, rivers, greenways, and public spaces don’t bounce back on their own and unfortunately, our region isn’t currently investing in these areas at a rate that will allow us to capitalize on our community strength.”

The goal is to raise $100,000 this year, and then keep it going. This is our time to invest in our community strength – the outdoors – to continue positioning the Roanoke Region as a preferred place to live, work, play, and visit.  A 2018 study by Roanoke Outside, “Roanoke Region Outdoor Impact, Infrastructure, and Investment Study” identified opportunities for improvement, enhancement, and trouble spots. The key area of concern, echoed by local land managers, was adequate funding for maintenance of key regional outdoor assets. Corporate supporters are leading the charge with $50,000 already pledged from Anthem, Carilion Clinic, Freedom First Credit Union, Haley Toyota, Hydro Flask, Member One Federal Credit Union, and Orvis.


Officials at Smith Mountain Lake State Park say the visitors this summer have uniformly been on their best behavior when it comes to social distancing. Park Manager Brian Heft says park the visitor count for the summer is about 14% higher than last year, and even though it may be an outdoor destination, there are social distancing regulations that still apply — and on a few occasions, they have had to turn aside visitors planning to hit the beach. More from WFIR’s Evan Jones:

08-13 SML Crowds Wrap-WEB


It has been a banner year at Virginia’s state park system – but state officials report more littering and damage than normal. That’s at least partly true at Smith Mountain Lake State Park, as WFIR’s Evan Jones reports.

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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia’s state parks have experienced a surge in visitors during the coronavirus pandemic. But their popularity has led to an increase in littering and alcohol use as well as environmental damage and people taking dangerous risks to post photos on social media.

The Richmond-Times Dispatch reported Thursday that state parks saw 120,000 more visits than they did last June.

Melissa Baker, director of Virginia State Parks, said some of the problem could stem from visitors who “don’t understand the purpose of the facility,” though the park system is “very thankful that people are finding us that weren’t our standard users before.”

At Buffalo Mountain Natural Area Preserve in Floyd County, heavy trail use and hikers going off the trail have caused erosion and had an adverse affect on fragile, rare plants.

Bull Run Mountains Natural Area Preserves experienced attempted looting of a Civil War-era quarry trench.

Cape Charles Natural Area Preserve was closed in July and won’t reopen until at least October because visitors were using a boardwalk to jump onto fragile dunes at the edge of the Chesapeake Bay. The jumping compromised the pilings holding up the boardwalk.

According to the latest numbers released this morning from the Virginia Department of Health there are 22 new probable or confirmed coronavirus cases being attributed to the Roanoke Valley. State health officials report 5 new cases in Roanoke City, 7 new cases in Roanoke County, and 3 new cases in Botetourt County and 7 new cases in Salem.

Those have hiked the popular McAfee’s Trail from Route 311 in Roanoke County know its somewhat of mad dash to cross from the parking lot to the trailhead – with a blind curve making it a bit of an adventure. Now VDOT plans to build a pedestrian bridge – and they’re asking for public feedback as WFIR’s Gene Marrano reports:

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See link to comments/design page at www.virginiadot.org/TrailBridgeatRoute311.

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