New park facilities named for Akers, Penn

Last Tuesday, Pulaski Town Council voted to name its new skate park and basketball court after two citizens who have had a significant impact on town residents – young and old.

The town’s newest park – at 99 First Street N.E. on property where a former General Chemical facility once stood – will eventually be given a permanent name when it opens early next year.

However, as a way to honor local citizens, some on council have recommended giving temporary names to both the skate park and basketball court that will take up most of the park facility.

Every couple years those temporary names will be changed to new honorees, and all the names will be permanently displayed at the park.

Councilman Jamie Radcliffe suggested two names at the meeting, and council approved each on unanimous votes.

For the first two years of its existence, the skate park will be named for Matthew Cameron Akers.

Akers passed away at the age of 30 in 2013.

Radcliffe told council that Akers had given much to the youth of the town for many years prior to his death as a coach of youth sports in the town. Radcliffe said Akers’ contributions to young people in Pulaski ranged from monetary to hours of work coaching and mentoring kids in town through recreation sports.

Matthew was the son of Dirk and Sabrina Akers of Pulaski who were in attendance at the council meeting.

The basketball court will be named for the first two years for councilman Lane Penn.

Radcliffe suggested Penn for the honor as well, saying Penn had served the public for most of his life through the military and public works projects throughout the town and county.

Radcliffe said Penn “is as close to my hero as there has ever been.”

In another recreation-related item, Karen Gerlach of the Friends of Draper Mountain approached council about naming the mountain bike trails on the mountain after Mike McMillion.

McMillion, who passed away unexpectedly Aug. 19 from a heart attack, was known as the “Bike Guy” or “Bike Mike” to many in Pulaski County.

McMillion led a group of volunteers to pioneer mountain bike trails on Draper Mountain, giving thousands of hours to clearing and building a trail system for public enjoyment.

He moved to Pulaski in 2010 an opened Pulaski Bikes, a bicycle sales and repair shop in the Historic Train Station.  Since then, he became a prominent ambassador for the town of Pulaski and the surrounding area.

Gerlach, whose Friends group includes hikers and mountain bikers, has adopted the top of Draper Mountain as part of the state’s Adopt a Spot program. They are also adopting the lower portion of the mountain off Valley Road in Pulaski.

The “adoption” of the areas includes cleaning up litter and maintaining the trails.

Gerlach said the group hopes to raise funds to pay for signage at the bike trails, and asked council to consider doing more to promote the trails. She said already hikers and mountain bikers from all over the area and several other states visit Pulaski to make use of the trails.

In other action, council unanimously approved an ordinance creating the New River Valley Passenger Rail Station Authority.

According to Town Manager Darlene Burcham, the ordinance is being approved by several NRV localities in support of efforts to establish a passenger rail station in the valley.

Other localities involved in the effort include the counties of Floyd, Giles, Montgomery and Pulaski; the City of Radford, the towns of Pulaski, Blacksburg and Christiansburg as well as Radford University and Virginia Tech.

Governor Ralph Northam signed legislation last spring to create a New River Valley Passenger Rail Station Authority.

The Commonwealth of Virginia committed $257 million to get passenger service to this area by 2025. The project will include a new station and facilities. A combination of federal, state and local/regional funding will be used.

The station is currently earmarked to be built in Christiansburg.

“Bringing passenger rail service back to the New River Valley will fuel tourism, drive economic growth, and create new opportunities for the region’s 180,000 residents and 40,000 college students,” said Governor Northam at the time. He said ridership forecasts show a “healthy demand for service” in the NRV.

Finally, Captain Mike Hudson of the Pulaski Police Department introduced two new officers.

Officer Andrew Doney is a 2021 graduate of Radford University with a major in Criminal Justice and a minor in Leadership and Military Science. While at Radford, he participated in the Army ROTC program for four years. He presently serves in the US Army Reserves.

Officer Robert Weber graduated Radford University in 2013 with a major in Criminal Justice and a minor in Psychology. After working three years for the Department of Homeland Security and then six years at Anne Arundel County MD Police Department, he relocated to Virginia.

Both of these fine young officers graduated from the Cardinal Criminal Justice Academy 77th Entry Level Law Enforcement Class on October 27, 2021, with Officer Weber finishing 2nd in the class.