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County eyes greenway extension

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The Henderson County Board of Commissioners is moving ahead on plans for several possible greenway extension plans.

Speakers expressed support on Wednesday for new greenways on Wednesday before the commissioners opened a discussion on bicycle and pedestrian paths countywide. Commissioners accepted a payment of $173,000 from the city of Hendersonville in lieu of the city's commitment to construct a greenway on a Jackson Park sewer line easement. Among the options the staff recommended for use of the money are to:

  • Reconstruct the existing Oklawaha Greenway between Fourth Avenue and Four Seasons Boulevard, a section that is often underwater after heavy rain, at a cost of $260,000. That project would elevate the greenway 3 feet above the floodplain.
  • Extend the Oklawaha Greenway through the park from the Fourth Avenue side to Glover Street, at a cost of $125,000 to $180,000.
  • Extend the Oklawaha Greenway along a powerline easement to the county Athletic and Activity Center, at a cost of $300,000 to $400,000.
  • Construct a bridge over Mud Creek to connect the Fourth Avenue sidewalk to the greenway, at a cost of $300,000.
  • Develop countywide greenway master plan, at a cost of $75,000 to $100,000.

"There are several grant opportunities," said County Engineer Marcus Jones, from the state parks and recreation division, the French Broad MPO, the Appalachian Regional Commission, the NCDOT and other organizations.

The city payment could be used as seed money to draw down more cash for greenways, County Manager Steve Wyatt said.

"This is an opportunity to use the ccity's money and multiply that to perhaps attack several of these projects and get several of these projects done," he said.

Commissioner Grady Hawkins said the top priority should be to connect the Oklawaha Greenway through Jackson Park and on to Blue Ridge Community College. A top concern "is safety of bike riders," he said. "I woud like to be able to extend the trail from Berkeley Park all the way to the community college in the hopes that bike riders would get off the roads."

Commissioner Bill Lapsley said he would be willing to "carry the flag" at the French Broad MPO, which he serves on,

"I just want everybody to understand this is not a click your fingers and it happens tomorrow," he said. "It takes a lot of effort and lot of lobbying to convince the MPO to fund the project."

County Business Development Director John Mitchell said the MPO has $4 million for greenway planning.

The commissioners acted after eight residents spoke in favor of greenway expansion.

"We've been really been gladdened with the greenway and our ability to use it," said Phillip Ellis, a father of two who lives near the Oklawaha Greenway. "Moving to Hyman Heights and having that connectivity has really improved our quality of life."

Another Hyman Heights resident, Suzanne Hale, said the greenway is a boon to seniors.

"What I love to do is walk on the greenway," she said. "My friends walk and bike there, some of them daily." Some walk and ride for fitness, some because of health problems. "It's really a vibant place for our local environemnt. It's just so special when my grandchildren come to town to be able to take them for a walk on the greenway." Henderson County's high population of seniors benefits from greenways, she added. "As the county plans its budget I really hope you keep the seniors in mind. We love the greenway because it's beautiful, it's accessible and most of all it's flat."

Joe Sanders, the Blue Ridge Bicycle Club president who is active in the greenway development plans for Hendersonville, Flat Rock and Laurel Park, said statistics show that greenways can help cut down on motor vehicle traffic.

"Forty percent of all trips are 2 miles are less yet 80 percent are driven," he said. "Seventy percent of North Carolinians say they would walk or bike if there was a safe, well-connected bicycle pedestrian network."

"I speak today as physician and a greenway advocate," said Dr. Ken Shelton, a radiologist. "Advocates are asking you to make us better by making more greenways connecting us to more people and places."

The community could most effectively fight the obesity epidemic through one solution. "If I could write a prescription, it would read, exercise, comma, repeat. The Oklawaha Greenway is popular, extremely well used and short. Our county needs more safe places integrated into our lives that encourage people to ride, run, walk and play."

"The value of the Oklawaha Greenway cannot be overstated," said Grey Jernigan of MountainTrue, "for families, health and for quality of life, as alternative transportation and perhaps most importantly for economic development of the county."