Bolin Creek Greenway project stalled

By Mary Withers and Stephanie Bullins
Carrboro Commons Co-editor and Staff Writer

More than a year after concept plans for the Bolin Creek Greenway were finalized, contentious debate about the project continues.

Disagreement between the local advocacy group, Save Bolin Creek, and proponents of the project has slowed further work on the final phases of the Greenway.

Mary Sonis, who walks along Bolin Creek three to four times a week and takes wildlife photographs there, stands in front of Bolin Creek where a multi-use paved pathway is proposed to run along the creek following the sewer easement. Sonis is a member of Save Bolin Creek and opposes the paved path. (Staff photo by Mary Withers)

Thus, Carrboro Transportation Planner Jeff Brubaker says the project doesn’t have an expected date for completion.

“The Board of Aldermen has asked town to proceed with certain phases of the Greenway while looking for public input on the final phases,” he said. “They have basically put off implementation of those phases for now.”

Town board member Lydia Lavelle says the current arguments are unnecessary because the board will hold public hearings and will listen to public commentary before it decides on the best route for the Greenway.

“The board’s view is that there’s no urgency to get into a big fight about it,” she said.  “All we have are the plans that the Greenways group suggested, and we’re aware that there’s a part of the community that thinks otherwise.”

The debate is hinged on the final two phases of the Greenway, which include construction of a 10-foot path along the creek that would run through the Carolina North Forest and private property.

Environmental Concerns

In opposition to the paved path plan, local environmentalists formed Save Bolin Creek a year ago. Instead, the group recommends an alternative less-direct route north of Estes Drive extension.

According to Save Bolin Creek, building the paved path would be unnecessarily expensive, complicated to maintain, a threat to local water supply because it runs into Jordan Lake and a detriment to valuable natural wildlife along the riparian zone.

Mary Sonis, a member of Save Bolin Creek, says warmed water from the pavement would wash into the creek and kill the salamanders and frogs that live there. In turn, this would affect the owls and hawks that feed on them.

“We’re concerned ecologically what it will do,” said Sonis, who walks along the path every three to four days and takes wildlife photographs there. “This is a creek that’s one of our last natural areas in Carrboro. That’s a big deal.”

On the other hand, Dave Otto, a member of the Carrboro Greenways Commission, says a paved path would have ecological benefits for the creek.

He says Save Bolin Creek looks at the tract of land as a pristine wilderness, when in fact it’s a path along a sewer line that trucks regularly drive on. He said the path is in bad shape and needs to be replaced.

“It serves a very important purpose to help preserve a degraded environment,” Otto said. “It will be a fantastic contribution to Carrboro that everybody will be able to use as the town grows.”

Ken Moore, the former superintendent of the North Carolina Botanical Garden, and Johnny Randall, the assistant director for conservation, both support the paved path. They say the pavement would prevent the mud from washing into the creek after it rained, preserving the natural ecology of the creek.

Mary Sonis checks under rocks for salamanders. Sonis says the creek supports a vast array of wildlife that would be endangered by a paved path. (Staff photo by Mary Withers)

Further Debate

Robert Crook, member of Save Bolin Creek and vice chair of Friends of Bolin Creek, said the trail makes bad economic sense.

“Carrboro has no budget for maintaining the Greenway after it’s built,” said Crook, who has a master’s degree in forestry and soils from N.C. State University and works on consulting jobs to conserve natural resources and agricultural projects. He adds that since the trail is in the floodplain, it would require regular cleanup. “It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.”

But proponents of the Greenway said it could promote economic development by creating jobs and increasing property values, as well as improving accessibility and promoting safer alternatives for recreation and transportation.

Otto says one major benefit of the Greenway would be a safer commuting option.

“I don’t want to risk my life on a bikeway on Estes Drive,” he said. “These are amenities people need and people will use.”

Another benefit of the Greenway would be encouraging active lifestyles, Otto added.

“It will get people out of vehicles and onto bicycles,” he said.

Connecting Two Towns

The Greenway, conceptualized by Greenways Inc., a group that was hired by the town in 2008, is designed to link Carrboro to future developments like Carolina North, Carolina Commons and ultimately to the Chapel Hill Greenway.

The Town of Chapel Hill is also constructing a greenway along Bolin Creek that would connect with the Carrboro project.

“The municipalities have planned to connect their greenways,” Brubaker said. “Bolin Creek stretches through Carrboro and Chapel Hill jurisdictions, so there is a natural need to work together.”

Bill Webster, assistant director of the Town of Chapel Hill Parks and Recreation Department, said the town has not received any complaints about construction potentially damaging the area, and added that most of the criticism has been directed toward the Carrboro project.

“There’s no project that you can ever envision that everyone will be happy with,” he said.

Webster still has high hopes for the completion of the entire project.

“Long after I’m gone, and the town finally finishes the Greenways, Inc. plan as envisioned, we will have a system of greenways and bike paths that will let you get almost anywhere in town,” he said. “You’ll be able to travel with minimal contact with motorized vehicles, and there will be fewer street crossings. Once you have that, there will be a safer transportation system and recreational opportunities.”

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