Have you strolled along the Roanoke River Greenway near Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital?
Ever walked on the new stretch of asphalt path at Vic Thomas Park in West End?
Biked on the Tinker Creek Greenway?
If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” then you’ve benefited from Gallop 4 The Greenways.
The annual 5k race and minifestival, now in its fifth year, is Saturday. And over the previous four years, it’s raised $110,000 for greenway-related projects, while providing much fun for many people.
Gallop 4 the Greenways was the brainchild of a group of young professionals that was itself an outgrowth of the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Robert Fralin, John Lugar, Bradley Blum, Eddie Martin, Aaron Ewert and probably some others formed an organization called Valley Forward and began dreaming up some ways they could better this community.
Their highest-profile project, a conference center hotel and/or restaurant on top of Mill Mountain was a dud.
But nobody could say that about Gallop 4 The Greenways. Valley Forward never demanded a whole lot of credit for it, but its founders are the ones who dreamed it up, drummed up sponsors for 4 years and got it off the ground.
To pull off the event, they enlisted the talents of Gretchen Weinnig, a local banker and outdoors enthusiast who had years of experience working races and triathlons around the country. She was queen bee of Gallop since its inception.
A typical 5k race starts early on a weekend morning, provides some bananas and bagels and water for the runners and lasts half an hour or so. Afterwards, the runners disperse quickly and the shindig is over.
But Gallop was much bigger and broader. The organizers provided meals, soft drinks, beer, and hired a live band to play on Elmwood Park’s stage.
They turned a half-hour race into an hours-long outdoor party celebrating greenways. It required effort by 120 or so volunteers.
“It was . . . designed for families and young professionals, to come down, hang out and enjoy the fun,” Weinnig said.
Over the years, Gallop grew. And so did the families of some of its early backers.
Weinnig fell in love, quit her job earlier this year and embarked on world travel with her boyfriend. They recently returned from South Amercia and will make a pitstop at Gallop on Saturday, before they head off on the next leg of their big trip.
Beginning this year, Gallop is run by Pathfinders for Greenways, and this year’s event has changed in significant ways.
The 5 p.m. race will be held at River’s Edge Park, and (unlike previous years) it will be run entirely on the greenway, said Liz Belcher, Roanoke Valley Greenways coordinator. Wylie Drive between Franklin Road and Jefferson Street will be closed for the day.
Organizers are pairing it both with the Roanoke River Greenway Festival, which kicks off at 11 a.m., and Saturday’s portion of the Down by the River Festival, which features live music. Gallop runners get free entry into Down by the River.
The transition from old hands to new running Gallop hasn’t been seamless. About 300 runners had registered as of Tuesday, which is down from 500 at this time last year. (Anyone can register up until the race’s beginning, but it costs more for those who wait until Saturday).
Volunteers for the event are still needed. If you want to volunteer, email Janet Scheid at firstname.lastname@example.org. Volunteers also will get free admission to Down by the River.
Given how popular the Roanoke River Greenway has become in recent years, and how important Gallop has become to the this valleys’ continuing expansion of greenways, it’s difficult to think of a better cause.
Check it out, if you haven’t before. You won’t be disappointed.