Parks, Trails & Whitewater in Roanoke | Q&A with Renee Powers
The Roanoke Region is a special place, in fact, it's one of my favorite places to visit in Virginia. While Roanoke is not in the James River Watershed, the James River itself and many of its headwaters are no further than a 30-minute drive from city center. The region is full of amazing outdoor recreation including hiking, biking, and kayaking to explore with many options to refuel and relax with a good meal and beverage at one of the many breweries found in Roanoke.
While heading down I-81 for a day in the mountains, I usually end up calling Renee Powers and her husband Steve, to tag along and explore one of the many backcountry gems hiding in the hills outside of town. Not only is Renee an exceptional mountain biker & whitewater kayaker, she manages over 20 miles of paved greenway trails and over 70 miles of natural surface trails as the Trails Manager and Greenways Coordinator for the City of Roanoke Parks and Recreation Department. I am always excited to hear the latest news in Roanoke outdoors and Carvins Cove and Renee is always at the forefront.
A huge thanks to Renne for this Roanoke centric Q&A! We hope you enjoy.
Renee, what brought you to Virginia, specifically the Roanoke Region?
I originally came to Roanoke in 2008 for a job at Roanoke College working in Residence Life and with their outdoor program. When I was done with graduate school I did a nation-wide search for a job and fell in love with Roanoke. When I came on the interview, I fell in love with the neighborhood feel to the area, the amount of bouldering and mountain biking opportunities and how quickly you can get from town to the outdoors.
What is unique about the trail system in Roanoke?
Carvins Cove and Mill Mountain in the same area is amazing. Both trail systems allow for users to ride from town (depending on where you live) and do world class mountain biking, trail running, hiking or horseback riding.
Carvins Cove is a stand out destination for the East Coast, what is it like to be have a part in the evolution of this public park?
This system has been awesome to manage and be a part of the growth. As a trail user myself, I enjoy the variety of trails and the connectivity of the system. In terms of management, we have all sorts of funny and unique issues that come up there and no where else in our system. But, it has been an amazing place to build and maintain trail with intact pristine forest ecosystems and amazing views.
For those of us visiting Carvins Cove, what are the 'bucket list' trails to ride?
Gauntlet, Buck, Lakeside, and Schoolhouse.
A trail system is important to local communities for so many reasons. What makes having a wealth of trails in and around the Roanoke area important to your region?
A lot of folks may say economic development, and while that might be important, we don't focus on tourism. If it happens, that is great, but we have our focus on the citizens of Roanoke and providing a high quality trail and park experience for them. Quality of life is what makes folks stay and choose to be in an area and is the most important factor for me to be here. We want our current citizens and people who choose to locate here to know we are building and maintaining trails for them to make every day the bets day it can be.
Outside of your local trails, do you find yourself enjoying the backcountry riding within an hours distance of home?
Yes! I need to be able to escape and ride stuff that I don't have a to do list going in my head the whole time. I usually travel "local" within an hour or hour and a half of our home.
What is your favorite backcountry riding?
Right now, I have been spending a lot of time in the Arcadia area. With spring weather being iffy, a lot of the rides there have multiple loop options and are linked with gravel roads, so you can bail in a rain storm or if you want to ride a bunch of days in a row, you are not blown out by technical trails. I purchased a gravel bike last summer and love the connectivity of the gravel in that area to the Blue Ridge Parkway and how amazing the loops are from Arcadia. Other areas that are fun are North Mountain, Longdale Furnace, Hoop Hole and Potts Mountain.
Not only is Roanoke a fantastic destination for riding, it has some great whitewater paddling. From beginner trips down the James River to full on Class V gorges. You are a great paddler, what sections of river excite you to load up the car with boating gear, and spend a day on the water?
Well, thanks for saying so! Social distancing is keeping me to the Roanoke River near our house in Salem right now, but we are fortunate to live near a stretch with about a half dozen good surf spots on the river that we can walk the shuttle along the greenway. If it is raining and circumstances are pre-COVID-19, I am headed to Johns Creek. If that is too high, Mason Creek and Barbours Creek are a ton of fun class 2-3 gems.
What makes Johns Creek so special?
Johns Creek is so special because of how quality the rapids are. Once you get into the groove at Shoebaloo, it is consistent class IV moves for miles. The rapids also have so much variety with still having a similar difficulty to them. The scenery is also breathtaking! Massive sandstone cliffs, rhododendrons, bears and eagles. it is such an amazing place to just be.
What do you look forward to in the coming years for outdoor recreation in Roanoke? Are there any new trails being built that we can experience soon at Carvins Cove?
I am looking forward to a return to "normal" after COVID-19 here in the next few months. I also look forward to seeing what my staff can accomplish. We have recently reorganized our department and now I have 4 full time staff and two part time and the impact of staffing on our trails and greenways system should result in an even more improved facility for trail users.
There are two trails under construction at Carvins Cove right now -- Third Deck, a one mile beginner loop off the Timberview Trailhead and Rock N Roll, a two mile long flow trail on the 'lowers.'