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Study takes a look at possible Oklawaha Greenway extensions

Wetlands, sewer easements, parkland and other property that could not be used for homes or businesses are among the potential paths for 15 miles of new greenway in Henderson County, a new study says.

The Board of Commissioners will hear a report next week from a team of three planning and engineering firms on possible next steps for northern and southern extensions of the Oklawaha Greenway. The 3.5-mile greenway, which currently runs from Jackson to Park to Berkeley Mills Park, could be extended north to Westfeldt Park and a future Kuntz Park across the French Broad River and south to Blue Ridge Community College and the Park at Flat Rock.

Using a $96,000 Federal Highway Administration grant, the Board of Commissioners hired Asheville-based Equinox planning and design to evaluate topography, gauge landowners' receptiveness to a greenway, hold stakeholder meetings and identify opportunities and barriers to greenway construction. The county staff will use the study to determine a final route for greenway extensions by working with willing landowners, a county staff memo said.

An Oklawaha greenway covering almost 20 miles would link parks, towns and destinations like the French Broad River, provide a "walking and biking spine" for spurs and other greenway expansions and connect communities, the study says. Goals of the greenway planning process are to provide access to natural and cultural assets, build excitement and support for the project while promoting "respect for property owners," make the project cost-effective by exploring alignment options, construction phasing and funding sources, stimulate economic development and attract businesses and enhancing the county's "larger sense of place and quality of life."

The consultants took a broader look at greenway connectivity as well, identifying Blue Ridge Southern Railroad and Duke Energy easements as possible paths. Stakeholders the consultants met with included the county Greenway Master Plan Advisory Committee, Recreation Board, Transportation Advisory Committee, Blue Ridge Community College, the Friends of Oklawaha Greenway, Henderson County planning, engineering and parks and rec departments, Healthy People-Healthy Carolinas, city of Hendersonville, Conserving Carolina, the Cooperative Extension Service, the town of Mills River, the Blue Ridge Bicycle Club, Henderson County public schools, the Village of Flat Rock and Hendersonville Airport.

Among the feedback stakeholders offered:

  • Scenery matters. Locate the greenway along streams and creeks even if putting it on a road would be easier.
  • Connect schools, affordable housing and retail-business areas.
  • Because much of the greenway would be in a floodplain it should be designed so it drains easily.
  • Use the county's many nonprofits to reach out to landowners, advocate for the trail and raise money.
  • Consider connections beyond the core of the county, including Buncombe County and area hospitals.

The planning report, by lead consultant Equinox along with Asheville-based TPD (Traffic Planning and Design) and Hendersonville-based WGLA-engineering, also contains photos of some possible paths, including Super Sod land in a floodplain, Conserving Carolina land, wetlands south of North Rugby Road and a sewer easement off North Rugby Road. Although the study identified potential routes based on "physical constraints," the ultimate alignment would depend on the willingness of property owners to cooperate.