ROANOKE, Va. – Whatever floated your boat was good to go Monday night as long as you were OK with getting a little bit wet.
The Roanoke River runs right through the heart of the city, yet many people, for a number of reasons, have driven miles away to rivers like the New and the James for on-the-water fun. When you consider those rivers run through rural mountain stretches and the Roanoke runs through a more urban area, it may be understandable why people have their reservations.
But Roanoke Parks and Recreation knows that people can have that kind of fun right in their own backyards and organized a flotilla -- where outrageous floats including air mattresses, shark heads and 10-foot swans were highly suggested, to encourage people to get out on the Roanoke. The group kicked off from the low water bridge at Wasena Park at 6 p.m. Many of the participants hustled from work to make it for the trip, bringing a new meaning to happy hour in Virginia's Blue Ridge.
"We're just promoting the area and getting people outside, making them realize how easy it is to utilize the river," said Kat Andrew, Roanoke Parks and Recreation Outdoor Recreation coordinator. "We've got some swans, I've seen some pineapples and unicorns, and everything in between."
The river access is easy, yes, but it's not always people's first choice. On Monday, however, the group was hard to miss as they floated the river from Wasena to just before the Walnut Bridge, many of them first timers on the Roanoke.
"I've never been on the Roanoke River," Jay Smith said. "And I've lived in Roanoke for 32 years!"
The rookies were easy to spot, tipping off their floats and letting out loud screams when they hit the water. Phyllis Krizner and her friends brought along an inflatable unicorn for the trip. She's lived in Roanoke for 14 years and has floated all the other area rivers, but never the Roanoke. Monday's trip gave her a whole new outlook.
"This is fun, I hope we do more of these," Krizner said. "It's a blast to come in after work, hit the river and float, have a couple beers and hang out with friends."
Even walking barefoot on some of the rocks, which had to hurt as much as it looked like it would, they stuck it out. More people realizing that the Roanoke River Blueway is a viable outdoor option is good news to people such as Rob Issem, a lover of all things outdoors and an advocate for Roanoke's outdoor opportunities.
"The river, of course, always needs care and loving and it's awesome because the more people that are out enjoying it on nights like tonight, the more people that are going to be inclined to come on river cleanup days," Issem said. "So it's win-win, it's just awesome."
After the float the crowd made its way to Starr Hill Brewery to keep the party going. Starr Hill donates $1 for each pint sold a special beer to a different nonprofit every month. July's non-profit is Roanoke Parks and Recreation, which provided an extra reason for people to come out and enjoy something new.