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Roanoke's in-river park dream takes shape

The view from a bridge over the Roanoke River in Wasena Park.
Nick Gilmore
Radio IQ
The view from a bridge over the Roanoke River in Wasena Park.

Roanoke is one step closer to what city officials call a dream project – an in-river park.

It’s hot on this July day in Roanoke’s Wasena Park. But in just a few years, visitors to the park would be able to cool off at the in-river park right here.

The city has just released renderings of what that project could look like. Katie Slusher is Planning and Development Coordinator for Roanoke’s Department of Parks and Recreation.

“So, there are in-river features stretching from Wasena Park to Smith Park," Slusher says. "There are seven access points – three of those are ADA accessible.” 

The proposal also includes whitewater rafting features and a kind of bay for kids to play in calmer waters.

Roanoke has already allocated $2 million in pandemic-relief funding for the project – and is hoping to find a little over a million more in grants.

Slusher says the regulatory process for the project is going to be complex. Several agencies need to sign off – including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which recently completed a flood-prevention project nearby.

“They have a very valid concern that they don’t want this to change the flood plain or impact that project at all," Slusher explains. "Of course, Fish and Wildlife that are interested in impact on species – particularly the Roanoke Log Perch.” 

The city wants to have a contractor in place by the end of next year – with construction starting in 2025.

If Roanoke pulls it off, the park would be the first of its kind in Virginia. Danville is working on a similar project, but would be able to control flow in the whitewater section.

Nick Gilmore is a meteorologist, news producer and reporter/anchor for RADIO IQ.