Discovering the riverfront
RiverLink volunteer Jack Saye spends his free time driving Asheville’s tourists or recent transplants around the city’s River District. The $15 tour runs through Chicken Hill, past the old warehouses near the train tracks, and along the banks of the French Broad and the Swannanoa. The lone couple who joined the April 19 tour had relocated to Asheville from Hawaii just three weeks before.
The educational tour informs participants about the environmental issues facing the river, while showcasing the Asheville-based nonprofit’s work to improve public access to the waterway. The north-flowing French Broad is among the oldest rivers in the world, noted Saye, and it plays a prominent role in the city’s history. RiverLink also leads regular volunteer cleanups along the waterfront.
But much of the tour had less to do with the river than with the economic-revitalization efforts the group is promoting.
“Is part of the revitalization going to be condos and things like that?” a tour participant queried.
“Well, yes,” responded Saye. RiverLink has been mapping out the redevelopment of the urban riverfront corridor since 1989, “linking” with interests that have the means to transform the area. This vision—which includes setting standards for construction in the floodplain, identifying economic-development opportunities and creating a 17-mile greenway along the French Broad and Swannanoa—was adopted by the city in 2004 as the Wilma Dykeman RiverWay Master Plan.
Several years ago, RiverLink bought the former Asheville Motor Speedway property for $1.4 million, developed it as Carrier Park, and turned over to the city. The group also built and donated the French Broad River Park on Amboy Road. Recently, the nonprofit acquired the former Edaco junkyard site on Amboy Road, which Executive Director Karen Cragnolin calls a “missing link” in the greenway, for $900,000. The group is raising funds to remediate that site with an eye toward converting it, too, into a park.
RiverLink also owns the old cotton-mill property on Riverside Drive and is working with developers to turn it into condos with artists’ studios and living spaces. The former icehouse on Riverside Drive is also on its way to becoming a mixed-use development.
Focus groups conducted by RiverLink in 2002 when it was developing the RiverWay Master Plan sought to identify the riverfront’s strengths and weaknesses. One of those strong points was said to be the “interesting gritty character that distinguishes [the district] from other more ‘finished’ areas,” as was its “development potential.” Among the weaknesses identified were the limitations imposed by the floodplain and the viewpoint that “many areas along the riverfront are ugly and junky.”
Progress Energy, noted Saye, is a key player in developing the greenway system; the company has agreed to donate land along the riverbanks. One key tract will link the area across the river from Jean Webb Park with French Broad River Park.
RiverLink also aims to make the area more visible. “We’d like to put in signs just off the highway that say ‘Welcome to Asheville’ and point newcomers toward the river and arts district,” he said.
Last chance to celebrate Earth Day
In the aftermath of Earth Day, UNCA students are preparing for … an Earth Day celebration. Earthfest will take place on Saturday, April 28, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the quad at UNCA; the proceeds will benefit Nature Conservancy projects to preserve land in Hickory Nut Gorge in Rutherford County.
At noon, ecological theologian Tom Baugh will give a talk on “The Greening of Religion and Theology” in the Laurel Forum in Karpen Hall. Earth First! co-founder Dave Foreman, now an independent activist who focuses on wilderness conservation, will present “Rewilding North America: The Appalachian Role in the North American Wildlands Network” at 3 p.m. in the Humanities Lecture Hall. There’ll also be a rummage sale, info booths and performances by local bands The Hitmen, The If You Wannas, Matt Rumley, Jarrett Leone and Dashvara.
For more information about Earthfest, visit orgs.unca.edu/earthfest