- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 13, 2009

ROANOKE | As usual, this year’s National Trails Day prompted a rush of activity on the nation’s paths, plenty of it from volunteers helping with trail building and maintenance projects.

One group of Roanoke-area seniors spent last Saturday working, too. But for them, it was hardly a once-a-year thing.

Known as the Midweek Crew, they’re out there just about every Wednesday working on the region’s trails and greenways.

Just about all of them.

“I can’t think of a trail in the Roanoke Valley that they haven’t helped with or been involved with,” said Liz Belcher, coordinator for the Roanoke Valley Greenways.

Among the trails touched by the Midweek Crew are the Star Trail and other trails on Mill Mountain, the Lick Run Greenway, the Murray Run Greenway, the Chestnut Ridge Loop Trail, the trails at Carvins Cove, and the recently completed hiking path on Read Mountain.

And while the volunteers range in age from the low 60s to the high 80s, it’s not like they’re out there just puttering around.

“What’s really awesome is to watch when they’re working with a bunch of young people,” Miss Belcher said. “They don’t seem to be moving. But at the end of the day, they’re still going and they’ve completed twice as much work as the young people, who are lying on the ground, panting.

“They’ve developed economy of movement.”

Economy of movement is the kind of phrase that will prompt a humble smile from Dr. Bill Gordge, the 81-year-old leader of the Midweek Crew.

That humble, kind smile is one familiar to vast numbers of people in the Roanoke Valley, where Dr. Gordge spent a long career as a pediatrician, one of the early partners in Physicians to Children.

Dr. Gordge is what Miss Belcher likes to call the “glue of the crew.” Requests for the crew go to him, and he decides what the crew will do. He gets a lot of requests.

“I guess the word got out that we’re free,” he said with a smirk.

There’s only one hitch: no deadlines. “There’s no time frame,” Dr. Gordge said. “That’s part of the deal.”

But what they start, they finish.

It’s hard to put a figure on just how much the crew has accomplished. “I would guess they’ve built 30 miles of trail, just them,” Miss Belcher said.

Then there’s the repair and reconstruction efforts on countless more miles.

The value?

Miss Belcher recalled that when some work on Chestnut Ridge was contracted, the cost was $2.50 per foot. The cost of building 30 miles of trail at that price - which is conservative given rising construction costs in recent years - comes in at just a touch under $400,000.

Add in the hours of repair work and it would be safe to estimate that the Midweek Crew has done a half-million dollars’ worth of work.

But the money savings is just part of the value.

Also important is the synergy the group has brought to trails expansion in and beyond the Roanoke Valley.

Ten years ago, Miss Belcher said, launching trail projects could be a challenge. She cited the Star Trail project that some trail advocates had been pushing for years.

“The Midweek Crew came in and knocked it out,” she said. “That really opened up Mill Mountain.”

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