Blanton Melas, Rojas Santiago Among Landowner Supporters for Northend
Landowners: the little known piece of the greenway puzzle. While the Northend Greenway has made fantastic progress thus far, nothing would have been possible without the initial approval of the individuals, families, and companies located along the proposed route. It may seem like a no-brainer to many, but when faced with giving up a portion of your backyard to the city with no compensation it is natural to have some misgivings.
Rachel Sara Blanton Melas has just the answer to such qualms.
“I agree with the ‘greater good’ mentality,” Blanton Melas said. “It’s definitely hard to let go of that much space, we’d like to use every inch we can for permaculture, but that’s the way it has to go for the community.”
Blanton Melas, a landowner herself and member of Northend’s Landowner Engagement Committee, sees the Greenway as an engine for community development, economic prosperity, and most importantly environmental awareness. After graduating from James Madison University in 2009, Blanton Melas chose to stay in Harrisonburg because of its progressiveness–most notably its bicycle infrastructure, which was a vast improvement over her hometown of Midlothian, Virginia.
“A truck actually stopped once when I was biking, and asked whether I needed a ride. There was always this incredulous kind of ‘oh my gosh you’re biking, do you need a ride?’ as though it was an unfortunate thing. No, I don’t need a ride. I have a ride; can’t you see I’m on my bike?”
To Blanton Melas the Northend Greenway is an embodiment of a new and sustainable way of living. It provides an alternative form of transport that is petrol-free.
“I was motivated [to get involved with NeG] by wanting the environment to be a place that’s healthy. Cars are not healthy. In world politics we’re going to war over oil, we’re addicted to oil. It’d be nice to use something, like bikes, that we don’t have to kill over.”
While Blanton Melas resolutely supports the Greenway mostly for environmental reasons, other landowners are looking forward to the Greenway as a galvanizing force in the community. Pedro Rojas Santiago lives just feet away from the proposed path. After immigrating to the United States from Mexico in 1985 he moved to Harrisonburg in 2000. Now settled in with his wife and four daughters, Rojas Santiago is eager for improvements in Harrisonburg’s Northend. He admits that he had initial concerns about how much of his land would be used for the path, but later realized that it would be a positive addition to his neighborhood.
“At first I thought it’d be okay if they only took a little bit of my land, not all of it. But then I thought that it would probably benefit all of us to have a path here. Our property values will go up, and we’d be right by it,” Rojas Santiago said. Furthermore, he believes the Greenway will bolster the overall image of Harrisonburg. “It will show that each day Harrisonburg is becoming a more beautiful place. It will make our city nicer.”
Rojas Santiago is also excited about the path as a recreation area for his entire family; he is already planning long walks and jogs, but there may be something else in his future.
“Maybe I’ll learn how to ride a bike. I never learned how,” Rojas Santiago said smiling.