Lean, green and coming to a neighborhood near you

It’s been almost seven years since City Council adopted Asheville’s Greenway Master Plan in 1998, recognizing the many advantages these linear parks offer. The following year, the seven-member Greenway Commission was established as an advisory board under the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.

Greenway development takes time — and patience. It’s a large-scale, long-term effort, and in the interim, the results are not always apparent to members of the public. But in fact, a great deal has already been accomplished.

At this writing, many of the master plan’s recommendations have been realized. Through a combination of city ownership and easements, land has been protected along most of these greenway corridors: Reed Creek, the French Broad River Greenway, Clingman Forest, Glenn’s Creek, Azalea Road Park, Richmond Hill Park and Nasty Branch. Master plans have also been developed for a number of individual greenways and sections, including the French Broad River and Carrier Park (on Amboy Road), the Clingman Forest Greenway, Azalea Park and the Riverbend development along the Swannanoa River.

To date, almost six miles of greenway have been built. There are two miles of greenways at French Broad River Park and Carrier Park, Glenn’s Creek is complete (.85 miles plus an extension across Merrimon Avenue into Weaver Park), and Richmond Hill Park has two miles of trails. The Reed Creek Greenway (.85 miles) has been cleared and prepared for construction, and the first phase will be completed by the end of this year, including building a bridge over the creek. The half-mile Riverbend Greenway has been built as part of the city’s agreement with the developers of the Super Wal-Mart project in east Asheville.

Before a stretch of greenway can be built, however, rights of way have to be acquired and cleared. The Azalea Road Greenway right of way has been cleared, and plans include a bridge over Swannanoa River Road (to be paid for with N.C. Department of Transportation funds) that will connect the park with the adjacent Beverly Hills neighborhood. Negotiations are under way with landowners to complete acquisition of the right of way to extend the French Broad River Greenway from Carrier Park all the way to Hominy Creek River Park. This will create an almost continuous route for bicyclists and walkers along the French Broad River corridor from the Haywood Road Bridge all the way to Hominy Creek. Progress Energy has recently donated land for a right of way from the Haywood Road Bridge to the dog park at French Broad River Park.

The existing greenways have been built very economically (average cost per mile: $100,000; sidewalks, on the other hand, cost $450,000 per mile). Greenways are also inexpensive to maintain, with an average annual cost of just $7,000 per mile.

Greenway Commission members are also actively involved in citizen-outreach efforts to build support for greenway development. A 20-minute PowerPoint presentation has been given to a number of organizations. And a regional Blue Ridge Greenways Conference will be held Nov. 12-13 at the Grove Park Inn. Commission Chair Linda Giltz is organizing the conference, with financial support from the Pigeon River Fund. The French Broad River Metropolitan Planning Organization and the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ Adopt-A-Trail Program have also committed funds, with the rest coming from local sponsors. To help pull the event together, Linda has formed an advisory committee made up of representatives from greenway commissions in other cities and towns, local governments, the National Park Service, state government and other agencies from across the region. The Asheville Parks and Recreation Department is simultaneously hosting a bistate conference of parks-and-recreation professionals from the Carolinas.

Greenways can accomplish an impressive list of goals both economically and efficiently. By providing opportunities for healthful recreation, greenways encourage physical fitness and a healthy lifestyle. By enabling residents to safely walk or bike to work, school or shops, they reduce traffic congestion (and thus improve air and water quality). By creating and preserving open spaces, they provide habitat for many species of plants and animals.

Greenways can also link existing facilities. A portion of the Reed Creek Greenway, for example, will cross the proposed new Health Adventure Museum site between Catawba Street and Weaver Boulevard, where it will connect with the Glenn’s Creek Greenway at the Botanical Gardens. The Greenway Commission is also looking at a number of other possible linking routes: from the downtown bus terminal to the A-B Tech campus; from Hominy Creek Park to the N.C. Arboretum; across Rhododendron Creek from West Asheville Park to Sand Hill Road; along Sweeten Creek Road; and along Beaverdam Road from Kimberly Avenue to Elk Mountain Scenic Highway (which connects with the Blue Ridge Parkway).

There are economic benefits as well. Experience in other cities has shown that greenways help attract new businesses seeking to enhance their employees’ quality of life, raise the value of adjacent property, and can serve as a deterrent to criminal activity. In addition, several of the greenways planned for Asheville will preserve culturally and historically valuable properties.

The Greenway Commission’s role is to provide a link between area residents and city government. The commission meets the second Wednesday of every month at 3:30 p.m. in the Parks and Recreation Department Conference Room in City Hall. The meetings are open to the public, and commission members are eager to hear from individuals and neighborhood groups about other possible greenway routes as well as potential sources of land and funds.

[Paula Robbins serves on the Asheville Greenway Commission. A retired university administrator, she has written four books and many articles.]

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