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Mills River explores NC 280 bike path

Planning consultant Blake Sanders describes the N.C. 280 greenway study at a meeting of the Mills River Town Council. Planning consultant Blake Sanders describes the N.C. 280 greenway study at a meeting of the Mills River Town Council.

MILLS RIVER — A greenway along N.C. 280 could connect new breweries, parks, rivers and other bikeways, a planning consultant says.


The Alta Planning and Design group, a Portland-Ore., based company with an office in Greenville, S.C., presented a preliminary look at a greenway corridor study last Thursday at the Mills River Town Board meeting.
"Looking at both ends of the corridor there's some great stuff going on," Blake Sanders, a senior designer for Alta, told the board. "Now we've just got to figure out how to tie the two together."
A greenway "will bring growth," he said. Part of the study's goal is to find out "how do we make sure (the greenway) is a positive impact for the culture that is there."
Sanders put up a slide of a bike rider on a narrow shoulder about to be overtaken by a tractor-trailer.
"This is what we don't want," he said. "This is what we do now. We don't want our kids or grandkids in a bike lane up 280. But what we do want is a path that is separated."
During three drop-in public input sessions last week, people who showed up said they wanted a greenway that could be used not just by avid bike riders but by families and young children.
"We want something everybody can be a part of," Sanders said.
Bicycling advocates point to a survey that gauged attitudes toward bike riding. The survey said 8 percent of responders were "strong and fearless" or "enthused and confident." Another 33 percent said "no way, no how" to riding. But 60 percent falls into an "interested but concerned" segment that is "very concerned about safety," Sanders said.
The N.C. 280 Corridor Study was funded by the French Broad MPO, the state-federal planning agency for roads and other transportation improvements here; the city of Brevard, and Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy. The scope of the study is from the Buncombe County line to Brevard.
"Our organization strongly endorses the idea of bike lane from Westfeldt Park, primarily because this is going to be a corridor that allows access to come interesting destination," Kieran Roe, executive director of the Land Conservancy, told the Mills River Town Council. "Having that amenity in Mills River will attract tourism dollars. People will come here because they're interested in that activity. Also employees are interested in having options for their employees to commute in multiple different ways, not just in cars but by walking and biking."
Valerie Naylor, who owns a trail planning and design company in Pisgah Forest and is on the board of the Friends of Ecusta Trail, applauded the greenway idea.
"We're really excited about this, the idea of a separated path," she said. "We heard about a bike path on 280 and we thought it would be a white line on the side of the road. The idea of having that opportunity is wonderful, and then to look long-range not only at tourism but also quality of life — the idea of having potentially a triangle of the Ecusta Trail and this trail back to the Brevard Trail. We love what we're hearing and love what you guys are going here and we'd love to be a partner in whatever we can."
Next, Alta will put together a plan based on the input from the public sessions and bring it back to the Mills River Town Council, Sanders said.
"Tell us where we're crazy, where we're not," he said of the council's role when the planners come back. "Then we'll revise this plan and let you throw rocks and tomatoes at it again."
The consultant has made no cost projections for the roughly 12-mile path. The plan envisions a separate bridge over the Mills River. Planners say the greenway could be built within the state DOT's existing right of way.
The study has identified connection points as:
• Westfeldt Park, a county owned park on the French Broad River that is being developed as a "blue trailhead" for kayaking and canoeing.
• Old N.C. 191, which could link an N.C. 280 greenway to Asheville.
• North and South Mills River roads, which are both popular bicycling roads now.
• Mills River Town Park.
• The stores and restaurants in Mills River's main retail center on N.C. 280 at Haywood Road.
• The Brevard Bike Path, which goes to downtown Brevard.
• A Pisgah National Forest link, which opens up hundreds of miles of trails and bicycle-friendly roads.
• The Davidson River campground and recreation area.
Longer term, greenway advocates envision a link from the Oskar Blues Brewery in Brevard and the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., which has a visitor connection to the French Broad River in its longer range plans and could have greenways throughout its 184-acre mostly undeveloped property. In fact, riders have already given the brewery-to-brewery trail a name: The Beerway.