Is Hominy Creek Greenway going to the dogs?

CANINE COMPLICATIONS: Our four-legged friends love greenways just like the rest of us. But a recent string of incidents has some questioning whether Hominy Creek has an issue with unleashed dogs. Photo by Max Hunt
CANINE COMPLICATIONS: Our four-legged friends love greenways just like the rest of us. But a recent string of incidents has some questioning whether Hominy Creek has an issue with unleashed dogs. Photo by Max Hunt

Residents using Hominy Creek Greenway in recent weeks may have noticed the sudden disappearance of two herds of goats, which had been put to work since May to clear invasive species such as Japanese Knotwood and English Ivy from the 14-acre tract. The absence of the hardy herbivores is the result of a June 28 attack on one of the animals — a wether named Skippy — by an unrestrained dog running through the greenway.

Although the goat was saved by on-site attendants and successfully treated for injuries, the attack — one in a series of recent incidents along the greenway involving unrestrained dogs — has set back the invasive-plant-removal project and raised questions about the proper use of public spaces.

Stewards of the land

The Hominy Creek Greenway, formerly known as the Waller Tract, began as a labor of love for Doug “Brotherhug” Barlow. “I discovered the greenway property when exploring the areas around our new home,” says Barlow, who moved to West Asheville in 2006 and was instrumental in early efforts to purchase and preserve the wooded area.

Working with Asheville’s then-Greenway Commissioner Marc Hunt, RiverLink, and neighbors of the property, Barlow helped facilitate the city’s purchase of the land in 2011 with county funds and $30,000 of private donations raised by the Blue Ridge Bicycle Club.

GOATS AT WORK: A typical mixed-breed goat employed by KD Ecological solutions to clear invasives weighs between 55-110 lbs. Photo courtesy of Doug Barlow.
GOATS AT WORK: A typical mixed-breed goat employed by KD Ecological solutions to clear invasive species weighs between 55-110 lbs. Photo courtesy of Doug Barlow

But little was done to improve the greenway after the initial purchase, says Jack Igelman, a board member of the nonprofit Friends of Hominy Creek Greenway, formed in 2011 to act as “stewards of the land.”

The city maintained the Metropolitan Sewerage District right of way along the greenway, cutting back brush once or twice a year, Igelman says, but installed little in the way of signage or infrastructure. So in 2012, the nine-member volunteer Friends, working in cooperation with RiverLink, contracted with the city of Asheville to maintain and improve the new greenway.

A subsequent $22,500 grant the following year, awarded by Buncombe County to the Friends, has allowed the group to initiate a number of projects, he adds, such as installing kiosks and a work shed, equipping volunteers and adding the munching goats.

“The control of non-native invasive plant species is imperative to preserving floral and faunal biodiversity,” says Lauren Reker, a herbivory specialist with KD Ecological Services in Mill Spring, whose company was contracted by the Friends and the city of Asheville in fall of 2014 to conduct the plant-removal project. Invasive plants alter the ecological character of the land and deplete food sources for native animal species, Reker adds.

GOATS ON THE GREENWAY: City officials, the Friends of the Hominy Creek Greenway, and others had high hopes that the use of goats to combat invasive species. Photo courtesy of KD Ecological Solutions.
BY THE HORNS: City officials, the Friends of the Hominy Creek Greenway, and others had high hopes that the use of goats to combat invasive species efficiently and quickly. Photo courtesy of KD Ecological Solutions

“Goat herbivory applications are a useful option for managing unwanted vegetation when conventional methods aren’t suited or are cost-prohibitive,” Reker says. The goats’ penchant for eating woody invasives and their relatively small size and dexterity make their noshing more environmentally friendly than herbicides or heavy machinery.

“We liked the idea because it’s something on the ground,” says Igelman about the project. “It shows that we are moving towards creating this great community space” that would benefit the entire Asheville community. There were also hopes, he adds, that this would be the first in a series of projects employing goats around city parks to clear invasive plants.

These high hopes were shared by city officials, says Debbie Ivester, assistant director of Asheville’s Parks and Recreation Department. “By removing invasive plant materials then maintaining the area, [we’re] improving the property and creating access for public recreation use,” she says.

Dogged problems

To keep the two herds — 28 goats all — within the work area and provide protection, KD Ecological Services erected an electrified plastic fence around the site. The company was aware of the presence of dogs on the greenway. “We double-fenced our project areas accordingly,” Reker says.

Although many goat herders employ “guard animals” — such as a dog or donkey trained to protect the herd — Reker says that such a measure would pose more problems than it solved. “The nature of guard animals is that if they can’t run a predator off [….] they will try to kill it,” she notes. “If a greenway user’s pet was killed or attacked by our guard animal, we would likely be facing litigation.”

Reker says that her company was surprised by the number of dogs on the greenway. “On weekends, it wasn’t uncommon to see 100 dogs out there.” Of that number, she estimates that about a quarter were off-leash.

According to Igelman, the Friends and the city posted numerous signs along the greenway alerting patrons of the goats’ presence. “I kind of thought if we put the goats out there, people would respond more to the signs and leash law, to avoid an incident,” he says.

Attempts to mitigate loose dogs on the greenway, however, have had little success. Despite signs regarding leash laws and efforts by Friends and city officials to speak directly to owners of unrestrained dogs, Igelman says board members soon realized that leash laws were a “very divisive” topic among residents.

TANGLED GROWTH: A picture of one section of the Hominy Creek Greenway prior to the introduction of the goats to the area. Photo courtesy of ED Ecological Solutions.
TANGLED GROWTH: A picture of one section of the Hominy Creek Greenway prior to the introduction of the goats to the area. Photo courtesy of ED Ecological Solutions
CLEAR SOLUTIONS: The same area of Hominy Creek Greenway after the goats had cleared invasive growth. Photo courtesy of KD Ecological Solutions.
CLEAR SOLUTIONS: The same area of Hominy Creek Greenway after the goats had cleared invasive growth. Photo courtesy of KD Ecological Solutions

The response from owners when approached about the leash laws, while generally friendly, struck a similar pattern, Reker says. “The feedback that I received from them was that they were aware of the rules but that their dog was not the type to attack goats or children,” she says. What’s more, she adds, many owners specifically told her they use the greenway due to the lack of leash-law enforcement.

Barlow believes the June 28 attack on the goat represents a larger problem: “Many cyclists have complained about loose dogs chasing them along the greenway,” he says, adding that unrestrained dogs pose a hazard to children, other leashed dogs, neighboring properties, wildlife and greenway volunteers.

Canine crisis

“Several people, myself included, have been bitten by dogs there,” Barlow says. “Some of our best volunteers have quit working on the greenway because they’re tired of being harassed by unleashed dogs and their owners.”

Reker agrees a more serious accident may occur if pet owners don’t control their dogs. “Dogs that are willing to run down and attack a 60-pound goat may be likely to do the same to a child,” she says, although she is quick to note that few dogs attack humans.

The Friends of Hominy Creek Facebook page reports several incidents of misconduct on the greenway over the past month, including violent confrontations between dogs, arguments with owners and repeated appeals from the Friends to adhere to the leash ordinance.

To address off-leash dogs in public spaces, Asheville Police Department’s Animal Services issues a progression of warnings and citations, explains Animal Services Supervisor Sue McMullen. In general, for the first violation, Animal Services issues a warning, which can be written or verbal. The point, McMullen says, is to educate dog owners about the city’s leash ordinance. However, the second time an owner violates the leash law, “We issue them a citation. The first citation [carries] a $50 fine,” with each additional citation increasing by $50.

However, in response to the high volume of unrestrained dogs in Hominy Creek Greenway, dog owners there are now on a shorter leash, she adds. “Of the 34 parks in the city of Asheville, there are four where citations are immediately issued, rather than a verbal warning. Hominy Creek Greenway is one of them.”

WARNING SIGNS: Despite ample signs warning the public of the presence of the goats at Hominy Creek, Lauren Reker says that seeing unleashed dogs in the area was a daily occurrence. Photo courtesy of KD Ecological Solutions.
WARNING SIGNS: Despite ample signs warning the public of the presence of the goats at Hominy Creek, Lauren Reker says that seeing unleashed dogs in the area was a daily occurrence. Photo courtesy of KD Ecological Solutions

Despite the stepped-up enforcement, Barlow says the problem persists. “No matter how many signs get put up, too many dog owners continue to feel entitled.” Igelman believes that many residents expect the Friends to address the problem. “We’re only nine volunteers. Our job is not to control dogs.”

Although the volunteer group continues to alert the Asheville police and Animal Services — the latter, ironically, being located across the street from the greenway’s Shelburne Road entrance — city resources for on-site investigation are extremely limited.

APD’s Animal Services Division currently employs two staff members to handle approximately 500 calls a year, although there are plans to add an additional field officer in August, McMullen says. “Every year our complaints and calls for service increase,” she says, noting that Animal Services issued about 250 written warnings in 2014, not including verbal admonitions.

Residents who witness unrestrained dogs acting aggressively should report them to Animal Services immediately, McMullen says. And she encourages dog owners to “keep their dogs on leash not just because it is the law, but for the safety of the pet as well,” noting that off-leash dogs are prone to violent altercations with other animals, people and being killed by moving traffic. “If you love your dog, leash it.”

Asheville Humane Society’s Behavior Department Coordinator Katy Mahaley compares leash laws to seatbelts laws. “We keep our dogs on leash to protect them and others around them.  Just because your dog is good off-leash doesn’t mean everyone else’s is,” she says.

DIRE MEASURES: The ongoing issue of unleashed pets in the Hominy Creek Greenway has led to tighter restrictions in the greenway. Some fear that continued violations might lead to a ban on all pets in the greenway in the near future. Photo via Flickr.
DIRE MEASURES: The ongoing issue of unleashed pets in the Hominy Creek Greenway has led to tighter restrictions in the park. Some fear that continued violations may lead to a ban on all pets in the greenway in the near future. Image via Flickr

A thorny future

While the Friends of Hominy Creek Greenway hope that the goat incident will spur discussion about unleashed dogs in public spaces, many members are ambivalent about the continuation of the goat project.

Igelman says the project is on hold. “We’ve really got to sit back and think about it. The city of Asheville will play a huge role in that, and of course the company that manages the goats.”

KD Ecological Services “no longer feels that the project areas are appropriate sites for goat herbivory applications,” Reker says. KD is currently working with the city and Friends to evaluate how to address the second phase of the project this fall.

Barlow doesn’t see goats returning to the greenway anytime soon and worries that continued neglect by dog owners will lead to more drastic regulations. “I’d hate to see the greenway become a dog-free area, but I would prefer to see that than have it continue to be thought of as a dog park.”

Igelman suggests this is just the beginning of a larger discussion among greenway users. “The big challenge moving forward,” he says, ” is how do we all share this public place when we have different interests?”

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About Max Hunt
Max Hunt grew up in South (New) Jersey and graduated from Warren Wilson College in 2011. History nerd; art geek; connoisseur of swimming holes, hot peppers, and plaid clothing. Follow me @J_MaxHunt

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25 thoughts on “Is Hominy Creek Greenway going to the dogs?

  1. drdr13420

    folks in the Asheville area are constantly letting dogs run unleashed in every recreation area I’ve been in…they are also notoriously rude for blasting by hikers/runners/walkers/etc. unannounced when mtn biking…actually the worst community I’ve lived in for those issues…boulder/denver/santa fe/Portland/seattle could all teach Asheville some manners/etiquette for use of trails/greenways/etc…

    • PB

      I agree with you. I do not go to Hominy Creek or Bent Creek any longer. I have 4 dogs that are leashed. Any dog running at them is going to be the cause of trouble. I do not care what kind of dog it is. I have had experiences where I call out to the other owner to please leash their dog only to be completely ignored and then having to deal with a fight breaking out.

    • anonymous22

      I agree with you 100%. Asheville dog owners are the most self-centered, disrespectful, inconsiderate, self-righteous people I have ever met. While hiking on trails off the BRP I have been jumped on and knocked down, snarled at, had many dogs take a stand against me and not let me pass while snarling and barking with no response from the owners other than “they’re friendly”, and had a pit bull jump on my head while sitting by stream with no apology, only that the beast thought I wanted to play (or be played with) because I was sitting on the ground. If you tell them what the law is, they say “I’ll keep that in mind”….hope they don’t try that with a law officer. They will actually make it sound like you are in the wrong and that the laws are for other people, not them. They think they are above the law. At this point, I consider dogs to be deadly weapons and when one comes anywhere near me on the trail , running, jumping, snarling, and barking, I consider it assault with a deadly weapon. I think the laws need to be changed and the fine increased to about $500 and most of all ENFORCE THE LAW.

  2. EE

    I work as an environmental educator, facilitating day-long science experiences for groups of public school students on public lands. I’ve led groups from local schools at the Hominy Creek greenway on multiple occasions, and off-leash dogs have definitely been a problem on each visit there. In addition to the simple distraction that arises when an unleashed dog approaches a student group, I’ve been confronted with issues of emotional safety (e.g., distraught students who have a significant fear of dogs – on occasion even running away from the group to get away from the dog) and physical safety (unleashed dogs snapping at students, thankfully never with an actual bite). Incidentally, this has been an even bigger issue at Bent Creek, where I desperately wish there were more clearly stated and consistently enforced leash requirements. For the sake and safety of the kids I work with, please act responsibly and keep dogs leashed – no matter how friendly your pet may seem to you!

  3. AndreC

    Depressing story. Sadly a goat paid for this. I’ve definitely seen close calls with small children and an unleashed dog running up to them, can be terrifying.

    Serious sense of entitlement (well put in article) by too many dog owners/companions. Wth?? It’s s combo of the viral “no one tells me what to do”, and “the government has no jurisdiction over me!”…

    Just a selfish outlook, reflected also in refusal to use turn signals, etc because they feel no one else shares the road or space. Serious issue, I’m hoping more rational discussion can enlighten people to the simple fact: a society is about sharing space, which means you don’t get to always do exactly what you want, how you’d like to do it.

    People miss the point that the trade off is huge!!

  4. We do not know the exact reason that our otherwise wonderful dog takes an instant dislike to another dog (or sometimes a person). I do not want any unknown dog to run at top speed toward me or my dog.

    • John Howard

      West Ashevillles dog park is small and sad. Last years renovations only provided a new fence and entrance which was hardly enough to accommodate the amount of canine friends living in Asheville. My dog does great on and off the leash, but she is an animal and deserves exercise just like the rest of us. With the booming population in Asheville it is difficult to find anywhere to let a dog off leash without having interactions with multiple people. If we ban dogs from the greenway there will likely be a shift in off leash activity at homony to somewhere else. The problem will not be solved until Asheville puts forth the effort to create more practical off leash facilities. I’m extremely thankful for homony and will continue to supervise my dog off leash with the best intentions.

      • Frank Warner

        In response to John, there’s over 500,000 acres in the PNF. If you want to let your dog run free take it out there. I don’t understand why you think the city or anyone else should build you a place for your dog to run. The “entitlement mentality” of some is amazing.

        • LJM

          I think John is respectfully echoing the sentiments of many dog owners – there are very few good options to let dogs run off-leash in this town, which leads to many dog owners making decisions in the moment to let their dog off-leash which may work out great as often as it goes the other way. (as the owner of a very social 12 yo basset hound, going off leash allows him to interact with the community in a really sweet way – he can’t exercise a lot so these interactions are really important to him). If there were lots of other, realistic options for dog owners to let their dogs run freely and safely, dog owners would certainly use them more often. It’s not a sense of entitlement to want to use a public space in a way that works for your family, pets included. It’s a privilege we like to enjoy like the rest of the community. The national forest is not a great option for many dog owners during the week, or at all. Asheville needs better options for dogs – we are way behind other progressive, dog-friendly, bike-friendly, pedestrian-friendly, outdoor-friendly cities.

          • LJM

            Also, I agree that many dog owners are irresponsible and its really sad that the goat was harmed. I do not support the actions of dog owners who continue to allow their dog to chase people or other animals in public spaces. But sometimes things happen once, and the owner takes responsibility for it and doesn’t let it happen again.

            More community understanding is certainly required on both ends. I totally support the use of goats to control invasive species.

  5. Stephen Lange

    I’ve been chased by dogs on the greenway, had one get caught in my spokes & then yelled at by the owner for hurting their baby. The key word in the ordinance (under physical control of a competent person) is a ‘competent person’. You can’t fix stupid.

  6. If I’m on the greenway and an unleashed dog jumps at/ bites me, the greenway will be where the offending dog is burried. It’s called responsible pet ownership and if 1 can’t follow the law/rules, then its a problem for all.

  7. Max Hunt

    Thanks for the thoughtful discussion on this folks! A friend of mine posted this on Facebook and I thought it would be of interest to post it here as well. Interesting perspective on how AVL as a community could approach this issue. Do you think a “off leash permit” could work here?

    “I think asheville can take a page from Colorado/Boulder’s book on canine affairs. As far as I’m aware, dogs can go off leash on designated trails once they have passed a class and received a ‘license’ tag. There is a fee to participate, but your dog has access and you have rights to being leash free on the trail. There are ALSO trails where all dogs can be off leash, so dog owners are assuming the risk, and are unencumbered by pedestrian traffic. There, a simple solution, certainly feasible in our dog loving town, now who wants to get the ball rolling?”

  8. Gabrielle White

    I am grateful for all your time and effort over the years to restore this habitat Brotherhug Barlow. I’m saddened by the amount of dogs as much as I am about the amount of people, in Asheville and in the world, and the detriment this has on our environment (obviously seen here at Hominy Creek…but there are more issues folks don’t want to talk about when it comes to truly looking at animal ownership in an objective way… the GMO dog food, the feces (that could go back to the earth) but gets put in plastic and in a trash can in a landfill, the amount of time and driving it takes someone to care for a dog when we need people caring for people/public lands/habitat that supports us, that we are failing to support. I know this is controversial b/c dogs are cute, it doesn’t win me friends to be speaking out against ownership, but I have to ask people to think about their actions and the environmental effects. For the last 50 years+ we have been able to use enough oil to create leisure time for all sorts of things that don’t support the 7th generation. Dog ownership included. (unless of course, the breed is being actively used as it was intended for work/protection on the farm) This is a signal that we humans have a long ways to go to have our actions support the next generations. We need to put our energies towards healthy land, clean water and air, creating ecological habitat for sooo many wild species that are going extinct. We need to look at the big picture. I’m saddened by the lack of action in Asheville to prove we care about our planet both by the citizens and elected government. We are focused on money and growth…and VERY little concern is placed on how to be creating our own renewable power, preserving habitat for wild things, reducing our wastes, improving public transportation to include walking and biking, growing food everywhere, caring for water, planting for pollinators, eliminating our use of pesticides. Currently there is no bill the richest Americans get for our non-sustainable actions. I include myself in the richest bracket, though I make less than 5K a year. But the tallies are adding up. Our mistreatment of water, land, and our ability to spend our extra time in leisure activities that cost the earth and its’ true indigenous people’s is REAL. It is our duty to not get mad at people like me, but to think about these problems and act in a solution-oriented way. BrotherhugThanks again for all you do, I wish I could take more time out of my homestead, planting of public grounds into food, to help you at the creek. I can only handle so much and I need to find ways to get other humans to care enough to act locally and globally. What you do is a big deal Brotherhug Barlow. I am sorry you are not carried like a rockstar in a moshpit to the safety of the goateating stage where you can sit and watch them do their magical eating. I’m trying to do my part and it’s super effing hard. I hear and see your struggle. I hug you.

  9. Kari

    I’m glad this issue is getting some attention. I am an animal lover, but I do not feel safe when I’m approached by an off-leash animal that I don’t know, and my kids don’t appreciate it either. Our experiences with dog owners in Asheville have been memorably negative – we’ve had off-leash dogs approach us growling on the Hominy Creek greenway, and dogs have run into our yard from a nearby park. Very scary when the little ones are playing on their swingset. I can sympathize with dog owners wanting a place to let their dogs run free, and I could even get behind a training/licensure program that someone mentioned above. These issues should be thought out by prospective dog owners well in advance of actually adopting an animal. I’d love to have a dog, but since it isn’t feasible to fence in our yard right now, we have a gecko instead.

    • Frank Warner

      “These issues should be thought out by prospective dog owners well in advance of actually adopting an animal”. Amen Kari!

  10. An extreme solution is to move the direction of what Beaver Dam Lake in North Asheville has done–requiring purchasing a visible permit for each dog that is on the property. I would hate for parks to go this way (or even worse, ban dogs completely), but all of these loose dogs risk the potential for ruining free access to all dogs because people are failing to attend to the situation. People with loose dogs are inconsiderate of essentially everyone else that has a right to be there and demonstrate complete disrespect, no matter how well-behaved their dogs are. I understand Asheville does not have the greatest facilities for off-leash dogs that are well-behaved, but the lack of facilities does not entail the illegal behavior of allowing a dog to run off-leash, particularly in a high-population area.

    • Beaver Lake is a unique situation. The lake is actually privately owned by the Lake View Park Association of homeowners there. I’m not one.. Lake View Park goes back to the late 1920’s. I can walk there from where we live and do not have a dog. There is an annual fee of $50 for a dog walking permit, which seems very reasonable. There is also a warden who sells permits and insures that no dogs are off lease. Hominy Creek lacks any supervision of dogs being off lease and without that oversight, there is no reason for many people to lease their dogs. Giving fines to those people letting dogs run loose over time would cut down on that practice. If Hominy Creek is for everyone’s enjoyment, then somehow dogs running loose will need to end. As it is now, people who have kids or lease their dogs avoid going there, so it becomes a defacto off lease dog park. I have kept goats and know that they have no defense against a dogs or even less so by several. Goats can trigger a predator response in a dog, since they are prey animals. Goats should not be at Hominy Creek with dogs running loose. Another dog attack will certainly occur.

  11. Slappy Cat

    I love my dog enough to always have him on a leash when he is out in public. And yes, I also keep my cats indoors.

  12. shazrose

    I don’t take my dog there anymore because of the behavior of a few humans. Used to be I would stop at a distance, my leashed dog at my side, and look at the oncoming humans with their unleashed dog/s. Most of the time they took the hint and leashed their dog/s. When that did not happen, and I couldn’t get away from the situation, several times their unleashed dog/s became aggressive toward my leashed dog. The humans said it was because my dog is on the leash. Mine did not start the aggression. Mine did get bit. We don’t go there anymore. I’d like to return, maybe in a group, and carrying pepper spray.

  13. Cat

    Asheville has a serious lack of leadership and this greenway situation shows. My dog was almost attacked by a pit bull there and I won’t take him again. People in Asheiville ( at least a lot of them on this greenway) don’t seem to care about other people having to deal with their dogs. And a lot of the dogs are these bully type breeds. Many of them are fine, but many of them are not when they are in a pack of a few dogs and one of them suddenly decides to get fiesty with my dog on a leash. The owners don’t seem to care at all.

    Calling out to others, “Oh, he’s friendly” just doesn’t cut it as the dog is charging up on me and my dog. Because they don’t know if MY dog is friendly and you never know the chemistry between two dogs.

  14. drdr13420

    those who let their “harmless/friendly” dogs run around unrestrained/untrained put the responsibility of protection/intervention on the other folks who leash their dogs…my dogs are not super sociable, so I am constantly being put in the position of restraining my dogs to protect someone’s uncontrolled animals…bent creek seems to be the gathering place for irresponsible dog people by far…just because there are not “leash laws” in those areas doesn’t mean it’s not wise to leash your pet. native wildlife in those areas do not need to feel the added pressure of domestic animals chasing them through the forest either…

  15. Kristin

    I go there often and 90% of the time the dogs are off leash. To be fair the sign is easy to overlook and I can see wanting to let your dog have some fun and exercise.

    However, I am not a dog person and I have small kids. I am always careful to not let my kids annoy people out in public and expect the same in return.

    I think its unfair to expect me to feel calmed by your “He’s a nice dog” when letting them run up to my kids who are smaller than they are. One of my kids is crazy about dogs but the other is afraid.

    That’s not really a guarantee anyways. It is an animal afterall & maybe my kid reacts in a way that frightens it.

    Simply put: please keep your dog on the leash and out of my kids’ faces. It stresses me out.

  16. Kim

    I truly hope that the experience of walking and running with my dog on the greenway is not ruined by people who choose to disobey the law and let their dog off-leash. I do not understand how anyone can think that is OK- just so their dog can be loose on that particular swath of land? The city has provided several dog parks- including one that is just a few miles away at French Broad River Park. I witness people letting their dogs off leash every time I visit the greenway- one person does it so other people then feel more comfortable doing it themselves- but it is against the law and it does cause problems! The worst thing that has happened to me personally is that I had a fall when running when I became distracted by a dog coming at me. I have had to protect my dog from other dogs (some which were aggressive) several times, and I do visit the greenway less since these incidents. Please, people- let us all enjoy the greenway!

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