Green in brief: Asheville protects land at Mills River water plant

Mills River Partnership live staking
DOWN BY THE RIVERSIDE: Volunteers with the Mills River Partnership plant live stakes of native species to help restore the banks of the Mills River near a city of Asheville water facility. Photo courtesy of Maria Wise

The bulk of Asheville’s water comes from the North Fork watershed, an undeveloped 22,000-acre forest in Black Mountain. But about 15% comes from another plant on the Mills River in Henderson County, a source that the city’s website describes as “less pristine.”

That water is about to get a little more pristine, thanks to a new collaboration between the city and the Mills River Partnership. Backed by a $400,000 grant from the N.C. Land and Water Fund, the nonprofit is restoring roughly 14 acres of riverside near the plant.

Maria Wise, the Mills River Partnership’s executive director, says her organization will stabilize the riverbanks and replace invasive plants such as Bradford pears and Oriental bittersweet with native species, including elderberry, silky willow and river birch. The land will then be placed under a permanent conservation easement, to be held by Hendersonville land trust Conserving Carolina.

“It is estimated that over 300 tons of sediment per year will be saved from entering the river. This makes water quality better for people and animals that rely on the river,” Wise says of the project’s impact. Work is expected to be completed by the spring.

City plans tree cuts at Municipal Golf Course

A proposal to remove 157 trees from the Municipal Golf Course has drawn substantial criticism from residents concerned about damage to the city’s tree canopy. Nearly 100 people wrote comments to Asheville’s Urban Forestry Commission opposing or seeking change to the plan, with many citing the zero-net loss canopy policy adopted by City Council in 2020.

“The previous golf course operator, Pope Golf, did a very poor job maintaining the course and its grass,” wrote East Asheville resident Nancy Casey in a letter that was copied by many commenters. “The new company, Commonwealth Golf Partners, wants to look good fast with quick-fix solutions to regrow grass by cutting many more trees than necessary.”

Chris Corl oversees the course as the city’s director of Community and Regional Entertainment Facilities. He said the trees must be removed to improve turf conditions, citing a report compiled by the U.S. Golf Association in May. Final approval of the project, he continued, would rest with the city’s Development Services Department, which would ensure all work was conducted according to city policies.

At their Dec. 6 meeting, Urban Forestry Commission members did adopt four recommendations for Corl and Commonwealth Golf Partners to consider. Those nonbinding suggestions included an independent review of the course’s trees by a certified arborist and the creation of a detailed replanting plan.

A website on the course renovations notes that the city plans to buy trees for East Asheville residents to help address the loss of canopy. As of Dec. 2, 10 people had taken advantage of that offer and agreed to plant 21 trees; Corl told Xpress the program “has not been fully advertised as of yet” and will be promoted later this month.

Blue Ridge Parkway to allow gas pipeline

An underground natural gas pipeline that will cross the Blue Ridge Parkway in Buncombe County can proceed with construction following its Nov. 18 approval by National Park Service officials. Tracy Swartout, the parkway’s superintendent, recommended a Finding of No Significant Impact for the 12-inch pipeline to be installed at mile marker 393.3, just east of the French Broad River in Bent Creek.

The line was requested by Dominion Energy North Carolina as part of a larger project to reduce pressure on existing parts of its distribution network. The utility says the effort will increase the reliability of gas distribution to its customers.

During a 30-day public comment period earlier this year, the Park Service received 1,450 “pieces of correspondence” regarding the project, most opposed to or expressing concern about the work. (Xpress also received two letters opposing the pipeline.) No changes were made as a result of those comments. More information and documents are available at avl.mx/c8l.

Community kudos

  • UNC Asheville was recognized by The Princeton Review as one of the Top 50 Green Colleges in the United States, marking the college’s highest ranking to date. Contributing to the school’s placement were its bike-share program and free campus shuttles, emphasis on local food procurement and sustainable building practices. UNCA also earned a bronze-level Bicycle Friendly University award from the League of American Bicyclists.
  • John Ager
    ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED: Retiring state Rep. John Ager received a Lifetime Achievement award from nonprofit EcoForesters for his commitment to conservation. Photo by Pat Barcas, courtesy of EcoForesters

    Asheville-based EcoForesters honored three Western North Carolina residents for their work in forest stewardship and education at the nonprofit’s Nov. 17 gala. Author and conservationist Doug Tallamy received the Root Cause award, outgoing state Rep. John Ager earned a Lifetime Achievement award and Tuckaseegee landowner Mark Yeager took the EcoForester of the Year award.

  • Oakley resident Michael Stratton was named a Neighborhood Volunteer of the Year by the city of Asheville. Stratton led the creation of the Fairview Road Resilience Garden and has organized several Open Streets events in the neighborhood.

Following the money

  • The Pigeon River Fund awarded nearly $198,000 in grants to support water quality in Buncombe, Haywood and Madison counties. Seven projects received funds, with the largest grant being $45,000 to the Haywood Waterways Association for program and administrative costs. More information is available at avl.mx/c8n.
  • The Whittier-based nonprofit Center for Native Health received a $105,000 grant from the global Rights and Resources Initiative to support the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ conservation efforts. Activities to be supported with the funding, according to a CNH press release, include “the development of strategies related to the recognition of Cherokee place names” and engagement of young people “in culturally relevant ecological practices.”
  • The N.C. Arboretum Society received $50,000 from the Environmental Enhancement Grant program, administered by the state Department of Justice and Attorney General Josh Stein. The funds will support cleanup of the Oconaluftee River with accompanying Cherokee cultural celebration and education.

Good to know

  • The Dogwood Health Trust released a new study, conducted by Research Triangle-based RTI Innovation Advisors, regarding WNC’s opportunities for growth in agriculture and food technology. The report, available at avl.mx/c8k, notes the promotion of climate resiliency, value-added products and closed-loop supply chains as three key areas to explore in the coming years.
  • Blue Ridge Parkway staff will be conducting maintenance activities throughout the winter, including drainage cleaning and tree work, that will require occasional weekday road closures from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Parkway visitors can check the locations and planned dates for this work online at avl.mx/7tw.
  • MADE X MTNS, an initiative led by Asheville nonprofit Mountain BizWorks, has released a WNC Outdoor Gift Guide for the holiday season. The website features locally made outdoor gear, apparel, food, beverages and experiences, with discounts available on many products. More information is available at avl.mx/c8i.
  • The Guion Farm Access Area in DuPont State Recreational Forest will be closed for the next several months as crews work to expand the parking lot and build a new restroom facility. Upon completion of the project, tentatively scheduled for this summer, the parking area’s capacity will be nearly doubled and include designated spaces for equestrians and school buses. Updates on the work are available at avl.mx/c8g.
  • Conserving Carolina encourages bird lovers to participate in the N.C. Bird Atlas, a statewide effort that aims to determine the distribution and abundance of bird species. More information is available by contacting Pam Torlina at Pam@ConservingCarolina.org.

Save the date

  • The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission has been stocking surplus trout in WNC’s small ponds throughout December. The final local stocking will take place at Tomahawk Lake on Friday, Dec. 16; a basic state fishing license is required to harvest trout. More information is available at avl.mx/c8f.
  • North Carolina’s Year of the Trail kicks off Sunday, Jan. 1. Local groups, including the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, encourage residents to spend the day outdoors and advocate for more trails in the community. More information is available at GreatTrailsNC.com.
  • The city of Asheville’s Urban Forestry Commission holds its annual retreat Friday, Jan. 13, 9 a.m.-noon. No further information or agenda details were available as of press time, but more will be posted closer to the meeting at avl.mx/c8o.
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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the News Editor of Mountain Xpress, coordinating coverage of Western North Carolina's governments, community groups, businesses and environment. His work has previously appeared in Capital at Play, Edible Asheville and the Citizen-Times, among other area publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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