Trees on the Virginia Tech campus. Courtesy of Virginia Tech.

Here’s a round-up of news briefs from around Southwest and Southside. Send yours for possible inclusion to

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Virginia Tech receives Tree Campus recognition; plans bee project

Virginia Tech has earned the 2021 Tree Campus USA Higher Education recognition for the 14th year in a row. 

To earn recognition from the Tree Campus Higher Education Program, universities must meet certain criteria set by the Arbor Day Foundation, according to a release from Virginia Tech. These requirements include establishing a campus tree advisory committee, developing a campus tree care plan, verifying the plan’s annual dedicated expenditures, celebrating Arbor Day, and establishing a service-learning project aimed at engaging the student body. 

“Last year, our Arbor Day celebration was a tree planting at the old growth forest by Lane Stadium, and our service-learning project was a partnership with the College of Natural Resources and Environment, where we hosted demonstrations for students with professional arborists across the Blacksburg campus,” said university arborist Jamie King in a statement.

About 14% of the campus is covered by tree leaves, the release said. “We have a big goal to increase that as part of the Climate Action Commitment,” King said in a statement.

Tech’s next goal is to achieve Bee Campus USA recognition. Currently, a committee of approximately 20 students, staff, and faculty are working collaboratively to achieve Bee Campus USA status by accomplishing six key criteria. Among them are creating enhanced pollinator habitats on campus (such as a drift of lavender plants near Hillcrest Hall), developing an integrated pest management plan focused on reducing pesticide use, creating a recommended native plant list, delivering service-learning projects to enhance pollinator habitats, offering courses that incorporate pollinator conservation, and more.

If you are interested in getting engaged in Virginia Tech’s efforts to achieve Bee Campus USA status, attend a community “Pollinator Walk” around the Blacksburg campus at 10 a.m. April 21. As part of Earth Week 2022 celebrations, Grace Steger — representative of the Urban Forestry Office involved in the Bee Campus USA proposal — will lead the walk alongside entomology graduate student Chad Campbell. This is an open invitation event that is subject to change, so be check for any changes on Virginia Tech’s Bee Campus USA website and social media

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Park Service says road projects near Roanoke will be completed this summer

National Park Service officials have announced that multiple road projects on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Roanoke are scheduled to be complete in the coming months.

Specifically, the rehabilitation of the Roanoke River Bridge, at Milepost 114.7, is expected to be finished in June; and repairs needed to stabilize slope failures near mileposts 119.7 and 127.9 are expected to conclude by the end of September.

While work is underway and until repairs are complete, current, signed detour routes will remain in place. The detour route around both projects extends from Virginia Route 24 at Washington Avenue (milepost 112.2) to Adney Gap at US 221 (milepost 136.0); and access to Explore Park remains available from the south via U.S. 220 (milepost 121.4). Behind closed gates, the Parkway is closed to all uses including motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians. The public’s cooperation with these closures helps support an efficient work schedule and the safety of staff, visitors, and the contractor. 

The Roanoke River Bridge closed during the summer of 2021 for a long-scheduled, major rehabilitation project. The National Park Service and Federal Highway Administration identified this project as a priority in 2015, as part of the ongoing, multi-year road maintenance planning cycle for the Blue Ridge Parkway. This project included concrete repairs to bridge piers, reconstruction and drainage repairs to approach areas, removal of existing asphalt surface and waterproofing membrane, installation of new waterproofing membrane and asphalt surface, and repainting of the steel super structure of the bridge. 

A spring 2020 storm resulted in a full road failure roughly one hundred and fifty feet (150′) in length at Milepost 127.9. Geotechnical and roadway experts have designed and planned a series of repairs for this emergency project, including installation of soil anchors and reconstruction of the fill slope, to stabilize the area and restore safe access.

At the time of the large slide, Parkway staff discovered another smaller slope failure at milepost 119.7. Repairs needed at this location will also take place this season and be managed using single-lane traffic controls. Park visitors in this section should anticipate delays up to 15 minutes, a shifted lane alignment, warning signs, new pavement markings and a regulatory speed reduction to 35 mph.

Daily road status updates are available on the park’s website at

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Hearing loss expert to speak at Fralin Biomedical Research Institute

Debara Tucci. Courtesy of Fralin Biomedical Institute.

Debara Tucci, director of the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders at the National Institutes of Health, will explore the importance of addressing hearing loss in a public lecture, “Living Your Best Life: How Hearing Well Contributes to Healthy Living and Healthy Aging,” at 5:30 p.m. April 14.

Her talk is part of the 12th season of the Maury Strauss Distinguished Public Lecture Series, hosted by the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC.

The in-person presentation is free and open to the public at 2 Riverside Circle in Roanoke. Registration is required and masks are encouraged. The lecture will also be available on Zoom and live on the research institute website.

“Dr. Tucci is a recognized pioneer in the study of hearing loss, the development of treatments, and advocacy to address the large-scale public health consequences of hearing loss,” said Michael Friedlander, executive director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute and Virginia Tech’s vice president for health sciences and technology in a statement. “She is leading the discussion of hearing loss as a global public health issue that not only impacts the quality of life of the individual, but also demands the attention of the whole community. We’re fortunate to be able to hear from such a key figure in that conversation.”

Tucci co-founded Duke University’s Hearing Center and directed the university’s cochlear implant program prior to moving to the NIDOCD in 2019. 

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Matthew Mullins’ new business, American Muscle Detailing LLC, was a recent recipient of a VCEDA Seed Capital Matching Grant. Courtesy of VCEDA.

VCEDA awards grant to Dickenson County business

The Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority has awarded a $10,000 seed capital grant to American Muscle Detailing LLC in Dickenson County.

“Matthew Mullins’ plan for American Muscle Detailing LLC is one that includes not only meeting the needs of car owners to keep their vehicles clean, but also growth for the future to provide services not currently widely available to individual vehicle owners and other businesses,” said VCEDA Executive Director/General Counsel Jonathan Belcher in a statement. “The business projects two full-time and three part-time employees within three years.”

Services offered by American Muscle Detailing are available to both individual car owners and to automobile dealers located in the vicinity of the shop in Haysi, according to Mullins.

Born and raised in Dickenson County, Mullins said he has always been a vehicle enthusiast. He worked with the Small Business Development Center at Mountain Empire Community College in developing his application to VCEDA and received a letter of support from the Dickenson County Industrial Development Authority.

About the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority Seed Capital Matching Grant Fund: VCEDA region for-profit businesses one year and under with less than 10 full-time employees are eligible to apply for dollar-for-dollar matching grants up to $10,000 from the VCEDA Seed Capital Matching Fund. Applicants work with the Small Business Development Centers at Mountain Empire and Southwest Virginia community colleges to prepare the applications to VCEDA that include detailed business and financial plans. Businesses must be located in or plan to operate in the VCEDA region in southwestern Virginia that includes Buchanan, Dickenson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Tazewell and Wise counties and the city of Norton.

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University of Lynchburg offers offers ‘Straight Talk about the N-word’

Dr. Neal Lester. Courtesy of University of Lynchburg.

Dr. Neal Lester will present the University of Lynchburg’s 2022 John M. Turner Lecture in the Humanities at 6 p.m. Monday, April 18, in Hall Campus Center’s Memorial Ballroom. Lester, a professor of English and founding director of Project Humanities at Arizona State University, will offer “Straight Talk about the N-word.”

“Like no other word in the English language, the N-word quickly becomes leading news headlines — particularly when celebrities use it,” Lester said in a statement.

The word has long been used in “American childhood rhymes and ditties, in minstrel songs that are now popular Disney children’s songs, and in commercial advertisements,” he added, and it “punctuates some rap songs, is euphemized, buried in mock funerals, and bleeped from media broadcasts.”

Lester’s talk is a response to one critic’s challenge to “create an environment for dialogue about the word’s purposes and problems.”

It’s also an opportunity, Lester said, to “hold under a critical microscope this single word described as ‘the most inflammatory, shocking and historic word in the English language.”

As Lester put it, his talk considers this word through the “complex discourse of American race relations, ultimately gauging more broadly the fundamental role of words, history, language, and performance to construct identities — individual, communal, and even national.”

Lester has been a professor of English at Arizona State University since the fall of 1997. He specializes in African American literary and cultural studies.

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