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.
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 www.momentumscience.org. For construction updates, visit Johnson’s blog at www.constructioncommunication.blogspot.com.