ROANOKE, VA. – The Roanoke River is being recognized for its beauty and accessibility on a national scale and local leaders are hopeful it could help kickstart tourism once again this summer.
And they want you to play a part by voting for the Roanoke River as the “Best Urban Kayaking Spot” as ranked by the USA Today. Roanoke currently sits in 3rd place.
In the dead of winter, the river is icy cold as snow and ice line the river’s banks. But some, like Stephanie Long with Roanoke Parks and Recreation, are thinking about summertime fun.
“Several years ago people didn’t really think about our river favorably, so we have worked really hard (to turn that around),” Long said.
That hard work turning tides as the Roanoke River is currently ranked third on USA Today’s Top 10 Best Urban Kayaking spots. It’s currently besting much larger cities like Chicago, Philadelphia and Austin among others.
“It shows people the importance of keeping a clean river and so now it has become this attraction and amenity that we can use, citizens can use, and people who are visiting the region can use to do really cool things right in the heart of our city,” Long said.
That hasn’t always been the case. The city has worked hard over the last few years promoting the river with clean up days and large scale organized river floats. There’s still a lot of work to do, but the city has made progress.
Catherine Fox works with Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge said much like the greenway and mountain bike trails in the city, the river can be used for tourism. Folks who come to use the river may also then stay in area hotels, eat at local restaurants, and even shop. VBR is asking for people to vote for Roanoke because it’s great exposure for the region.
“So we think this is obviously good because it’s national attention,” Fox said. “It’s one of the most unique ways to generate recognition that we do not have to pay for it.”
The hope is that recognition leads to more people coming to the area. More people translates to more dollars which is more important than ever following the tourism downturn. Fox said people are anxious and ready to get out and Roanoke wants to capture whatever share it can.
“People are really starting to set the stage for their travel plans,” Fox said. “They’re all wanting to get out, it’s pent-up demand.”
Long is hopeful the Roanoke River holds its spot in the top three, or even better. But no matter how it ends, she said it’s the validation of their work to promote the river. They’ve added access points to the river to make it easy to get in and out of, as well as signage along the way to help with wayfinding. Like the greenway in its infancy, it’s a slow but steady march forward and recognition by the USA Today helps.
“That’s proof to me that what we’re doing is working,” Long said. “Just to be mentioned with some of the cities that are on there is really awesome and I’m incredibly proud of all of the hard work we’ve done to get to this point.”