Time to “launch” waterfront development?

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Steve Frey

The River City Music Festival, the River City ACCE Triathlon, “Walk to Freedom: The Mary Draper Ingles Story” performances next to the river—more and more activities in Radford are capitalizing on the city’s famous moniker— “Virginia’s River City.” That’s a very good thing!

One thing that has been discussed a lot in the last couple of years is developing Radford’s waterfront. Of course, Virginia’s River City has to have one of the best waterfronts in the state for use by both residents and the thousands of tourists who will come to enjoy it from all over the country. Those tourists will bring with them lots of dollars, and welcoming more people means full hotels, more restaurants, more specialty shops downtown and many more jobs for residents.

That development would also generate a strong economy while Radford University is in session during the school year and equally robust business over the summer when fewer students are around, but the town is buzzing with visitors.

A great start toward waterfront improvement would be to develop a dock/kayak system as pictured here. This one is a high-end dock/kayak launch designed for the Village of Baldwinsville, New York on the Seneca River in Finger Lakes Region. The Seneca River has a flow very similar to the New River in Radford, so it makes a good comparison.

This launch has a step system that makes it accessible for disabled persons. A person in a wheelchair can slide onto the steps and down to the kayak. Of course, one kayak after another can quickly be launched or return to the dock. Canoers can also use the sides for ease of access to the water. This design is just one example, and there are many different configurations and price ranges.

The city should build a simple cement ramp down to it (for wheelchair accessibility), similar to the boat ramp at Riverview Park, and wide enough for people to walk onto the dock or walk directly into the water with floats, paddleboards, etc. Yes, this will cost several thousand dollars, but the payback period will be very short once word gets around describing Radford’s amazing kayak launch and waterfront.

Radford’s section of the New River is already dotted with floats, kayaks and canoes on every good-weather day from spring until fall. A great goal would be to make Virginia’s River City the Middle State’s “Float City,” too! Creating this simple dock/kayak launch would be a relatively inexpensive, but highly effective first step.

If the city council could work with the recreation department, maintenance and maybe even New River Adventure to expedite this, it could be in place this summer. By the way, these systems are removable so that they can be taken out of the river around, say, November 1, and put back into the water about, oh, March 15. That would keep the launch safe during the icy winter season. It could also be removed in flood situations.

This dock/kayak launch could be a start toward an entire waterfront system that can be enhanced and built upon year-after-year. A nearby state-of-the-art playground, restrooms, a wading beach, a refreshment stand for the growing crowds—the sky is the limit for possibilities, but the city should take the first step and begin development. Then take another step each subsequent summer to grow the waterfront. Add special events like kayak or paddleboarding races, beach volleyball tournaments, kayak/paddleboarding/water safety, Virginia’s River City festivals/celebrations, enrichment programs—again, the sky is the limit.

Virginia’s River City has to start somewhere with waterfront development—why not by building a dock/launch this summer?

Steve Frey is a writer and CEO of Ascendant Educational Services based in Radford.