Trees come down at Health Adventure site, rankling neighbors

First the chainlink fences and No Trespassing signs went up. Then the trees came down.

Over the Jan. 10 weekend, workers cut down most of the trees on the site of the future Momentum Science and Health Adventure Park, which will be the Health Adventure’s new, expanded home. Health Adventure President and CEO Paige Johnson estimated that 75 to 80 percent of the site’s trees were cleared, to make room for a building and parking lot.

Green building? Montford neighbors say clearcutting doesn’t match the mission of Momentum, the Health Adventure’s planned science and environmental-education park. The project’s leader says the tree-cutting was necessary to build the new center. Photo By Jonathan Welch

Some residents of Panola and Cumberland streets, which border the previously forested area sold to the Health Adventure, were shocked by the cut. They say the move goes against Momentum’s theme of environmental education and living green.

“They’ve done an incredible disservice to the mission of Momentum: ‘Respecting the land and loving the birds,’” said Cumberland Avenue resident Laurie Brill, who’s helping lead the fight to save several of the older trees that remain. “We hope that moving forward, it’s about responsible development.”

The Health Adventure is currently housed inside Pack Place in downtown Asheville. In 2004, the nonprofit bought the nine-acre site at the corner of Catawba and Broadway, after looking at more than 30 possible locations for the new $25 million Momentum campus. Health Adventure leaders liked the Broadway property because it has a creek that the center will use as a teaching tool, Johnson said.

Plans for Momentum include a pedal-powered monorail, a 39,000-square-foot science-and-education center and a freestanding tree house.

Despite the project’s intent and several meetings between Johnson and residents, the clear-cut upset many neighbors and distressed some children at neighboring Odyssey Community School.

At the project’s groundbreaking in early December, Johnson gave a speech about the importance of honoring the site. “We stand here today at this beautiful site where there are majestic trees, a running creek, birds, insects, flowers … and it makes me think about how important it is that we protect this,” she said.

But Johnson said it wasn’t possible to build without taking the trees down. “We saved the ones we could,” she said, adding that new trees will be planted.

Because of the neighbors’ outcry, workers will be taking extra measures to save some of the largest trees left within the project’s buffer, she said.

The project will include features such as geothermal heating and cooling systems, innovative stormwater systems and LEED certification, to teach people about green building and living, Johnson said. Many of the trees that were cut down will be milled on site and used for the building’s floors.

Neighbor Denise Mills said she understood financial constraints, but that leaving more trees should have been a higher priority.

“The bottom line is it costs less to clear-cut, grade and replant than to save trees,” Mills said. “But that doesn’t really match the mission of their group.”

Construction on Momentum will begin later this year. For more information, visit For construction updates, visit Johnson’s blog at


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7 thoughts on “Trees come down at Health Adventure site, rankling neighbors

  1. Piffy!

    The irony for this for me has always been that the area was quite a fun little Montford hide-away before the leaf mulch pile left and these guys took over. you could sit by the creek and read. Swing on the rope-swing. someone even grew a huge garden there years ago, with corn, beans, squash, tomatoes, etc.

    Too bad you have to destroy the quaint little creek and tree-swing and organic guerilla-garden to build the Eco-Center.

    So goes “progress”.

  2. Travis

    I just went down to the site of the carnage along Cumberland and Catwaba for the first time since the clear cut. This is absolutely despicable. I was at the Montford Neighborhood Association meetings where the Momentum representatives lied through their teeth to us about preserving trees throughout the parking area and the rest of the property. They clear cut. There are a very small number of trees left with tiny “protection fences” around them that are not anywhere close to far enough out to protect those trees from damage. They will not survive construction due to impaction of their root systems. The tree chosen for “America’s Greatest Treehouse” is diseased and dying. The run off resulting from this clear cut will absolutely destroy Reed Creek. The run off prevention measures there now are nowhere near adequate. This construction project is a complete disaster for the environment and Momentum’s claims to the contrary are a laugh and a lie. It is not possible to be eco-friendly and clear cut at the same time.

  3. cwaster

    Ah yes, contractors chop the hell out of trees on a lot after saying they wouldn’t. Anyone really surprised? You shouldn’t be, they do it all the time. It stinks, but I’m not surprised.

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