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Wednesday, 13 May 2009 16:45

Jackson public asked to envision a greenway

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For nearly a decade, a group of Jackson County residents have envisioned a greenway that would meander for miles from one end of the county to the other. Now, the Greenway Committee is finally ready to turn this lofty goal into a reality — and they want the public to help.

The Greenway Committee’s Master Plan envisions a path that from Cashiers to Whittier, passing through the county’s communities and towns along the way and using the Tuckasegee River corridor as an anchor.

But what section should be completed first? Should the trail be made of dirt, gravel, stone or wood? Where should trail entrances and overlooks be? What spaces could the greenway help preserve?

“This is so important,” said Linda Dickert, a Greenway Committee member. “The other counties have one, and there’s no reason Jackson can’t, too. This gives people a safe area that they can take their kids, bike, hike, and see the absolute beauty of this county.”

A series of public workshops next week will give the public a chance to voice their opinion, said Emily Elders, recreation project manager for the county.

The workshops will allow residents of Jackson County to collaborate on a dream that has been several years in the making, and wasn’t always easy to pursue.

The Greenway Commission was formed in 2000, but lacked paid staff or a dedicated source of funding.

“I think one of the problems we had when we started was we didn’t have the authority or the guidance and we didn’t know what we were supposed to do,” said Dickert.

The group had plenty of ideas, but not much direction.

“They got a lot of plans done, but it was hard to get anything on the ground,” Elders said.

A major obstacle was the lack of funding.

“It was overwhelming,” Dickert said. “We looked at this plan, and I’m thinking, how in the world are we going to do this? We were trying to do it for little or no money.”

The commission eventually decided it needed a full-time person dedicated to pursuing the dream of a greenway. Elders was hired in September of last year and got the ball rolling.

The first leg of the greenway will break ground next month in the form of a sidewalk between Sylva and Dillsboro and a trail through Mark Watson Park.

Charting a path

Much of the challenge, as with any greenway project, will be convincing landowners to let the trail pass through their property.

“We have looked at different ways to do it,” Elders said. “Of course, we would rather have a voluntary agreement to cross a property. If we needed to acquire property, that’s obviously going to be a challenge because we have such limited funding. Land is not cheap to buy.”

Elders hopes people will see the merits of a greenway in that it helps preserve natural areas.

“Not only do you have recreational benefits, but you have environmental benefits,” Elders said. “In the long run, if you’re doing it correctly, it’s preserving public access to natural resources.”

Some of the route will inevitably run along sidewalks, but the goal is to keep it along waterways as much as possible. The public will help define the exact path the greenway will take.

Sewer lines owned by Tuckaseigee Water and Sewer Authority follow the river and creek cooridors in the area, potentially providing the right of way for some segments.

The public workshops will also double as a chance to create an alternative transportation plan for the county.

“We’re doing a bike and pedestrian component of the plan for anyone interested in riding their bike or walking to work, or biking and walking for recreation,” said Elders.

Connecting individual communities so people can get around safely is a major goal of the greenway, Elders said.

Elders hopes the series of public workshops will keep the greenway momentum going.

“I don’t want it to fall by the wayside like it has before,” Elders said. “I want to make sure that we keep doing things. As limited as the funding is, you can do a lot more than you think. Eventually, a cohesive system will be there.”

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