Connect the plots

The 102-mile plan: Buncombe County leaders recently completed a Greenway Master Plan that, if implemented, will link many communities and projects. Images courtesy of Equinox Environmental.

There has been a lot of talk about greenways and bike lanes n the Western North Carolina region, and for good reason: They are key elements in supporting and developing a mobile community. The benefits of greenway development reach the cardinal points of the community, in material and immaterial ways, which is why so many sectors of the community champion such systems.

Environmental Groups encourage greenway development — and bike lanes especially — because they provide an alternative to driving a car to a park or a grocery store, helping redress climate-change issues and air-quality concerns on the ground level. Since greenways are often associated with significant natural lands, ridgelines and rivers, conservation easements are typically placed along the entire trail corridor, which leads to permanent protection of the surrounding habitat.

Health and wellness organizations find much to support in greenways and bike lanes too: They invite physical exercise, provide access to recreational facilities and encourage community interaction with the natural environment. As linear parks, greenways provide far-reaching recreational opportunities for neighborhood and community members that otherwise may not exist. Even tourists visiting this region have opportunities to walk, bike, rollerblade, skateboard or jog to destinations, allowing for a richer travel experience.

Greenways increase transportation options and can increase travel efficiency. Much of the planning that has occurred locally includes abundant bike lanes, sidewalks or complete streets that incorporate all users’ needs to provide a street system that is better and safer for drivers, transit users, pedestrians and bicyclists.

But there are significant challenges in creating a connected network of greenways and trails in our mountain region due to steep valleys, ridges and the existing built environment. A combination of on-road connections such as bicycle lanes and sidewalks are often required to make a connected greenway system work in such developed and challenging areas.

Economic groups also embrace greenways because of the real tangible benefits of greenways in business retention and business relocation. Quality of life factors, such as access to open space and greenways that promote the walkability and bikeability of a community, play a significant role in an organization’s decision to relocate or start a business in a particular area. Who can argue against greenway development when it helps attract business and jobs to a community?

The 102-mile plan 
Buncombe County recently revealed its comprehensive Greenway and Trails Master Plan for the development of a system connecting major destinations such as business corridors, schools, farmers markets, community centers, parks and and neighborhoods.

The process began in 2008, when the county established the Greenways and Trails Commission, with Lucy Brown as Park and Greenways Planner. In a June 19 Mountain Xpress article, reporter Jake Frankel describes how the plan highlights seven priority areas and about 100 miles of proposed corridors, and how the process evolved: “Crown and other officials have spent countless hours poring over data and maps, and meeting with residents and other stakeholders, to determine the optimum routes.” He continues, “Many link existing parks, greenways, residential areas and schools; several follow waterways such as the Swannanoa and French Broad rivers.”

The Master Plan includes eight key greenway corridors throughout the county, including Asheville, Black Mountain, Weaverville and Woodfin. Currently, the city of Asheville has a little more than four miles of developed greenways. The completed segments include such areas as the French Broad River, Glenn’s Creek, Reed Creek and the Swannanoa River. The ultimate goal is for a 15-mile system throughout the city. (For more details on the system’s location points and phases of development, visit

When Colorado-based New Belgium Brewing decided to build its East Coast production facility in Western North Carolina, company executives identified “Asheville’s growing multimodal infrastructure [as] a key factor in their decision to build a $175 million production facility along Craven Street in the River Arts District,” Xpress reported. As part of the company’s agreement with the city, New Belgium’s 17.5-acre riverside complex will include a greenway along the French Broad River, toward which the city has pledged up to $500,000.

In addition to the economic gains, jobs and infrastructure the brewery will generate, the land itself — a former stockyard — is a designated “brownfield,” an area contaminated by past industrial use, which New Belgium will rehabilitate.

The New Belgium site provides a sound example of the diverse benefits of greenway development. Greenways can have a positive impact on communities and individuals by providing opportunities for recreation, alternative modes of transportation and even protection of the natural environment, all while influencing economic development.

David Tuch and Dena Chandler of Equinox Environmental, an environmental planning and design firm located in Asheville N.C., have been working on greenway projects throughout the region, several of which have been listed above. Tuch has extensive greenway experience including work on greenway and trail projects in the Pacific Northwest and the Southeast. Chandler has been involved in numerous greenway-planning projects in Western North Carolina, including the Buncombe County Comprehensive Greenway & Trails Master Plan approved by the county Board of Commissioners in 2012.