Why Greenways are a Safeguard for the Environment

A MORE ACTIVE LIFESTYLE — Using the greenway paths and trails in Buncombe County connects people and gets them into a more active lifestyle/ Donated photo

Lucy Crown and Marcia Bromberg both hope the public will contact their elected officials in support of greenways.

They were invited by Leadership Asheville Forum to explain why they are important to our community at a critical issues luncheon. Crown is Greenways Coordinator for the city of Asheville, and Bromberg is past president of Connect Buncombe, a non-profit supporter of greenway projects.

A connected greenway system can bring with it a transformational change in any community. Bromberg said greenways help safeguard the environment.

“Most of our greenways in Buncombe County are planned along rivers and streams, and as such offer a buffer zone to protect those rivers and streams from harmful runoff. Because greenways promote outdoor recreation they support healthful lifestyle choices. With one in three children in America being diagnosed as obese this is very important. These children bring their obesity into adulthood and become vulnerable to heart disease and diabetes. Greenways help mitigate this ever growing public health cost,” she said.

Having a professional background in finance, Bromberg sees greenways as a sound investment because of their economic impact. When greenways are built new businesses are commonly found to open in their vicinity. “Greenways are the second most desired amenity for people to have near their houses. Renters and buyers look for locations near greenways, and developers are beginning to recognize that.” Bromberg highlighted a recent study that showed every dollar invested in greenways results in a $1.72 return.    

“The return comes in with revenues, taxes, and reduced costs for health and transportation,” Bromberg said. The Swamp Rabbit Trail is a 22-mile multi-use greenway that travels along the Reedy River connecting Travelers Rest with Greenville, South Carolina. Before the Swamp Rabbit Trail, Travelers Rest was about to give up their charter and go out of business as an independent city and be absorbed back into Greenville County. Bromberg said the revitalization to the economy that occurred after the trail was completed compelled Travelers Rest Mayor Wayne Caldwell to say, “You don’t need to worry about removing that charter now, business is real good.” 

Commissioners approved the Buncombe County Greenways & Trails Master Plan in 2012. It includes 102 miles of greenways running mostly along the French Broad River, Swannanoa River, Hominy Creek, Reems Creek, and Town Branch Creek. Unfortunately, only a small part of that plan has been completed so for.

Crown said the city’s Greenway Master Plan was put into place in 1981. It is comprised of 22 corridors with 57 miles of greenways. After three years work only five miles have actually been completed. “For the last seven years the City of Asheville has been working on what we call the ‘River to Ridge Greenway Network.’ The project under construction now can be seen from the Smoky Park Bridge. Once built, these greenways will create a ten and a quarter mile network connecting West Asheville to the River Arts District, downtown, the South Slope, and all the way over to Beaucatcher Mountain.”

Most recently built is the half mile New Belgium greenway. Crown said the property owner donated the land for the city to use. “That was a massive gift from New Belgium.” Four new projects are “shovel ready,” with easements, land acquisitions, and permitting completed. The only thing holding them back is a lack of funding. These include the Town Branch Greenway, the French Broad River West Greenway, the Beaucatcher Greenway, and the Bacoate Branch Greenway.    

Each of these four have a theme. The Town Branch Greenway will feature a series of interpretive signs about the devastating impact of the razing of the Southside Community, a historically African American community, due to urban renewal. The French Broad River West Greenway will feature information on the indigenous edible plants in the area and have volunteer led edible gardens. This greenway has the nickname “The Edible Mile.”

The Beaucatcher Greenway is designed to connect Memorial Stadium to the historic Helen’s Bridge near Zealandia, and will have a spur trail to connect a future park, the White Fawn Overlook Park on the top of Beaucatcher Mountain off of Reservoir Road. The Bacoate Branch Greenway is named after the stream that runs through the property, which was recently named in honor of Asheville businesswoman Ossie Bacoate, mother of Matthew Bacoate, a well-known African-American businessman in Asheville.

We can all celebrate the ongoing River Arts District Transportation Improvement Project (RADTIP). “It’s a new road with sidewalks, separated bike lanes, and a greenway. We are redefining this section of Asheville into a new urban area, and it’s going to be transformational. The road will take another year, but the greenways are under construction now, and will probably be completed by the end of summer,” Crown said.

By Mark-Ellis Bennett