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South River Greenway: The one thing that Waynesboro actually gets right

waynesboroA self-appointed group has thrown a kitchen sink of false flags at the proposed expansion of the South River Greenway in Waynesboro.

Safety, potential littering, graffiti. Then the kicker: homeless people use the current 1.1-mile stretch of greenway as a place to live.

Why not just come out and say it? It’s the blacks and Hispanics. That’s what they don’t want in their backyards.

The proposed expansion would connect at Loth Springs to Ridgeview Park along an approximately 1-mile path, taking it behind homes in the Tree Streets.

I’m also a Tree Streets resident, not along the proposed path, but close enough that I use the greenway several days a week, as the home base for my distance-running training.

I’ve been putting in 35-40 miles a week on the greenway for the past three years, in the heat of summer, the cold of winter.

         

The concerns detailed by the opponents of the expansion are so much balderdash, from my thousand or so hours of experience going back and forth, back and forth, back and forth on the trail.

For one, safety. My runs vary, from early morning to the end of the day, depending on my schedule. I’ve never not felt 100 percent safe at any point in time.

The only time I remember uniformed police having any kind of presence was a summer day a couple of years back when I started a run from home, ran by the library, which is a couple of blocks from the Loth Springs entrance to the greenway, and noticed a group of police cars surrounding a sedan, whose driver darted out in between the police toward the greenway, where he was quickly captured, as I ran by.

That has been it in terms of that kind of excitement.

More typical is the young woman I passed by four times earlier this week, running and pushing a baby stroller, making me feel bad, because I wasn’t; the two older guys wearing UVA baseball caps that I swear I see every time I run; the senior usually wearing a Virginia Tech hat walking his dog, who always asks how many more laps I have to go; the impeccably-dressed retired couple that nods and waves every time I pass; the several groups of older white ladies who express to me their worries that I run too much; the scores of fly fishermen and fisherwomen, who like me are there on the hottest days, the coldest days, the rainiest and snowiest days; the growing number of Latino families, kids, parents, grandparents all walking together, which I love to see, the multi-generational aspect.

There’s also the higher-up at the police department who walks most afternoons; several members of our city fire department, who take advantage of the proximity of the end of the greenway downtown near the fire station to stretch their legs; folks from parks and rec, who get out of their work vehicles from time to time to check on things and enjoy the walk like everybody else.

And the countless people, young, middle-aged like me, older, walking their dogs, or walking by themselves, either listening to music on headphones, talking to friends on their mobiles, or just taking in the sights and natural sounds.

If you’ve never been, you’re missing out, seriously. Especially this time of year.

I ran 13.1 miles yesterday morning, and made it a point to keep my head up to catch the awesome views of the blue sky against the Blue Ridge along the river.

You’re in the middle of the city there, but you can easily lose yourself in nature.

I treasure the several hours a week that I’m out there.

The notion being advanced that homeless folks use the current greenway as home being a reason to scuttle further expansion is disgusting to me, on several levels.

One, if there is anyone using the greenway as a home, I’m somehow missing them.

Now, yes, there is a small group of older gents who gather at the end of the greenway at Port Republic Road for hours at a time.

We’re talking, maybe, five, six guys, not all at one time. I assume they’re retired or otherwise simply unemployed folks taking advantage of the good weather to pass the time, because they’re there some times when I run by, and then, you know, they’re not.

The race of these folks: African-American.

I’m assuming that the use of the word homeless to delegitimize them is racial code.

We don’t want … those guys … walking down a greenway behind our houses.

Isn’t that what this is all about?

Shame on us, Waynesboro.

The concerns about litter and graffiti are equally as much nonsense. The only issue resembling litter is the occasional dog-walker who doesn’t take care of cleanup, and those kinds of incidents are rare, and I’d know, right, having to dodge the messes?

I’m consistently impressed with the utter and complete lack of litter along the route. You don’t see bottles, cans, paper, even small scraps. It’s just not there.

Folks who know me and have read my missives on city politics know my feelings on city leadership, which are, generally, not even remotely positive. There’s an awful lot that we get wrong here in Waynesboro, from underfunding schools and police to our wasteful spending on an economic-development office that does absolutely nothing to contribute to the wealth of our community.

The South River Greenway is one thing that we got right here in Waynesboro. I see it, again, almost every day. It’s the one thing about Waynesboro that gets young, old, white, black and Latino, economically disadvantaged and comfortably well off, peak physical condition and otherwise, on an even playing field.

We need more greenway, linking downtown to the historic black neighborhood on Port Republic Road, and in the other direction to the historic Tree Streets.

Yeah, yeah, kumbaya, et cetera. I’m a pinko liberal who thinks the world is a better place when we all just try to get along.

But, you know, it is.

So at the risk of clogging things up for my runs, I’d invite everybody reading this to go out for even just one walk on the greenway this weekend, to see what I’m seeing.

It won’t bother me at all to slow down and say hi.

Column by Chris Graham

 
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