Lucy Crown and a greenway “dream team” kick off a publicity campaign this month to help connect the region’s green spaces.
by Jess McCuan . photos by Matt Rose
If you really want more greenways around, Lucy Crown says: speak up now. Asheville’s urban planners have been working on creating more greenways—grass-covered or paved pathways that can be used for recreation or bicycle commuting—since at least the 1970s. But Crown, Buncombe County’s official park and greenways planner, says there’s renewed interest in the project this year, as RiverLink, Liberty Bikes, and greenways coordinators from Black Mountain and Asheville have all banded together behind a new greenways master plan. The plan, developed starting last June, would create a system of connected pathways throughout Buncombe County and will be ready for review by county commissioners this summer.
Many hope a political shake-up this year on the Buncombe County Commission (longtime commissioners K. Ray Bailey and Bill Stanley will retire, and the commission adds two new seats in the fall) will mean there’s an opportunity to make a fresh case about the importance of connected green spaces. Specifically, the county’s Connect Buncombe team is looking to fund new trails on an 18-mile stretch along the Swannanoa River (US 70) that would connect Asheville to Black Mountain, and a 15-mile stretch along the French Broad River (NC 251) that would connect Asheville to Madison County.
That much trail could get expensive. While the county has not released a total project goal or dollar amount, both Crown and RiverLink’s executive director Karen Cragnolin say buying and constructing one mile of greenway costs roughly $1 million. In recent years, Cragnolin has overseen one of RiverLink’s signature projects, the planned 17-mile Wilma Dykeman Riverway along the French Broad, 4.5 miles of which are complete. Cragnolin says a greenway’s costs can come down depending on the amount of surveying, grading and other engineering involved. On a relatively usable new stretch of the Dykeman Riverway near UNCA, for example, the cost to pour a simple asphalt path was $50 a foot, she says, for a total of around $250,000 per mile.
However the trails get built, the project is urgent. “People are using [the Dykeman greenway] and going, ‘Hey, what’s the problem?’” Cragnolin says. “If you thought Asheville was the land of the green, you’re kind of shocked that this hasn’t been done already.”
To channel that sentiment, and to help make their case to the commission, Crown and county cohorts like Jessica Stevermer are launching an innovative publicity campaign this spring. They encourage residents to take and submit pictures of themselves holding signs that read: “I want to ______ on a greenway.” Crown’s goal is to have ten percent of the county, or 17,000 people, submit photos. “It’s such a quick way to show what kind of support we have and how many people want this to happen,” Crown says. Pie in the sky? Perhaps. But nearly 150 people showed up for Connect Buncombe’s informational public meeting last September, and another is scheduled for mid-May. Crown says it’s a good start.
To learn more about the master plan or submit a photo, go to www.buncombecounty.org/Governing/Depts/Parks/Greenways.aspx. The Bike of the Irish ride, which raises awareness for Connect Buncombe, is March 17 at 1pm. Details: www.ashevilleonbikes.com.