VINTON–The stars aligned or at least many factors coalesced to make possible the opening of the Tinker Creek Canoe Launch in Vinton, celebrated with a ribbon-cutting on June 24.
Individuals from town and county governments, state agencies, the business community, and the Boy Scouts formed partnerships which led to public access for what had been an emergency boat ramp restricted to public safety personnel.
The Third Street launch is about a half mile above the spot where Tinker Creek meets the Roanoke River and allows for the launch of canoes, kayaks, jon boats, and paddleboards to remote and undeveloped sections of the Roanoke River.
“The Tinker Creek canoe launch advances the quality of life here in Vinton and the entire valley,” said Vinton Mayor Brad Grose at the opening ceremonies. “This was made possible through the combined efforts and good will of many.”
“Town Council approved the project,” said Grose. “Anita McMillan our Planning and Zoning Director secured funding with help from Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and AEP. Public Works contributed great in-kind work. Jack Cranwell contributed with his Eagle Scout project. We feel blessed with the professional folks and volunteers who made this project possible. No Town of Vinton funds were used.”
Grose said that $11,500 in funding came from AEP, facilitated by Bud LaRoche, a member of the Roanoke Greenway Commission formerly with the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF). The DGIF itself contributed $10,000. Cranwell raised the funds for the kiosk and other improvements that were part of his project. The total cost of the combined efforts was about $28,500.
Total improvements include signage, the kiosk to post river access information such as maps and regulations, a boat rack, fencing, landscaping, and improvements to the parking area.
Joe Jones from Appalachian Power said AEP was proud to contribute to the project as part of the AEP credo is “to become a part of the communities we serve and to help them thrive in every way we can.”
Steve Kessler from the DGIF complimented the efforts of Anita McMillan as did virtually every other speaker.
“Anita is highly respected in her field of planning in the Roanoke Valley.” said Vinton Town Manager Chris Lawrence. “Under her leadership and hard work, she has been directly involved in successfully securing almost $2.5 million dollars of grants and partnership funding over the past 5 years for downtown revitalization, Greenways, sidewalks, and Blueway development of the new boat launch facility. It takes a team to get all this done, but she has consistently been in a key impact role to secure these community investments.”
Lawrence, a Boy Scout himself and now a leader with the local troop, recognized Cranwell for his hard work in identifying, designing, raising funds for, and constructing his Eagle Scout project and praised the Scouts for “developing young men to become productive citizens.”
According to Vinton Public Works Director Gary Woodson, Walton Nash who is a crew leader in Public Works built the emergency ramp with contributed materials around 1989. That was after the Flood of 1985 ravaged the waterways in Vinton.
For many years the boat ramp was basically hidden from view and deemed off limits to the public. Most local residents were unaware of its existence until the subject of Blueways came up in discussions of expanding outdoor activities to attract tourists and economic development resulting from the success of the valley Greenways.
The topic of the boat ramp also came up around the time that Vinton Town Council decided to deal with both a tight budget and vultures plaguing the neighborhood by closing the dumpsters on Third Street near the boat ramp, saving the town about $10,000 annually.
At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Woodson thanked members of his department for their 370 hours of work on the project. Kenny Sledd, Chris Weikel, Don Hamilton, and Cory Kitzmiller contributed to launch facility development. Jason Davison and his crew are responsible for grounds and site maintenance. Jill Acker and Bonnie Stevens administered the project. Bo Herndon was the project manager.
Town Council approved a proposal in July 2014, allowing Cranwell from Scout Troop # 17 to make improvements to the existing boat and canoe ramp.
At the time Liz Belcher, Director of the Roanoke Valley Greenway Commission said, “We are thrilled to have Jack take on this project. We have worked with Vinton for several years on the possibility of opening this ramp to the public, but the Town realized that additional facilities and information were needed to make it a public access point.”
Cranwell selected the project as an undertaking that would have a lasting impact on the community.
“Nature is God’s greatest creation and gift to us,” said Cranwell in thanking those who helped him complete the project. “The primary carpenter and biggest help on the kiosk was Lance Partleton. I also received help from Mark Corkerey who donated supplies and equipment. Nita Echols, Pat Myers, and Lisa Hooker were a huge help with my fundraiser. Robert Kulp of Black Dog Salvage donated generously to the project. Patrick Kiser and Teresa Dooley of Danny’s Glass were an immense help to me with the final stages of installation of the plexi-glass doors of the kiosk. Additionally my neighbors the Semones helped me with a large portion of the installation. I had help from numerous friends, scouts and non-scouts alike. And of course my parents and my brother Joe were helping me all along the way.”
Tinker Creek is a popular fishing spot, stocked with trout just upstream from the boat ramp access point. It also connects downstream with the Roanoke River, where it flows to Niagara Dam, visible from the Blue Ridge Parkway bridge over the Roanoke River Gorge near Explore Park.
At the dam, boaters can disembark, carry their boats past the rapids, and then return to the river and travel through the waters of Explore Park, eventually ending up at Smith Mountain Lake.
James Revercomb who owns Roanoke Mountain Adventures (RMA) in Wasena Park attended the ribbon-cutting. His company rents out paddleboards and kayaks and provides shuttle services. He said people are always looking for new river access points.
According to Shane Sawyer from the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission, “You can put in at the Wasena Park access and paddle to the Vinton Tinker Creek Third Street access. There is one very short required portage at the Smith Park low water bridge where the Roanoke River Greenway/Wiley Drive crosses the Roanoke River. At the confluence of Tinker Creek and Roanoke River, you paddle upstream to the Vinton Third Street access. The distance is approximately 8 miles or so.”
In addition to RMA, Back Country Ski and Sports in Salem rents kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards.
According to Assistant Town Manager Ryan Spitzer, Vinton is hoping to attract outfitters to town and to develop a relationship with any and all of the outfitters in the region.
“I believe that a boat ramp of this caliber and with its location can be beneficial for all parties,” said Spitzer. “There are outfitters in the area who will either rent people boats or take them on guided tours. The goal is to get an outfitter to come to Vinton since the boat launch is a prime location.”