Town seeks money for second phase of Riverwalk Greenway

Fred McCormick
Black Mountain News

The town of Black Mountain is seeking an additional $2.25 million to complete what officials call a critical portion of the municipal greenway system.

On March 12, during its regular monthly meeting, the board of aldermen voted unanimously to approve a resolution pledging $450,000 to match part of the $1.8 million in funding it’s requesting from the French Broad Metropolitan Planning Organization. The money, which comes from the Federal Highway Administration, is for the construction of the second phase of the Riverwalk Greenway.

The town of Black Mountain is seeking additional funding to help connect the Flat Creek Greenway to The Oaks Greenway through the existing Riverwalk Grenway, which runs through the park behind the Bi Lo building.

“The town has (already) received over $2 million in funds from the Federal Highway Administration, through the NCDOT and allocated by the local (metropolitan planning organization), to connect our greenway system from the Flat Creek Greenway,” town manager Matt Settlemyer told aldermen. 

Once completed, the project will link the trail behind Black Mountain Primary School to the existing Riverwalk Greenway (behind Bi-Lo). The connection will be made by creating a crossing under U.S. 70 through an existing culvert with an additional crossing at the railroad tracks east of South Ridgeway Avenue.

An additional crossing from the Riverwalk Greenway will be built under N.C. 9 along the Swannanoa River. That portion of the trail will link to The Oaks Greenway at the end of Vance Avenue.

“As we’ve done the design work on this project and gotten our feedback from the DOT and Norfolk Southern, we’ve gotten approval to make the crossings,” Settlemyer said. “But that’s also firmed up what our budget is, and the expense is now higher.”

Initial projections for construction couldn’t factor in unknown variables like where or how Norfolk Southern would require the town to cross the company's tracks or whether the NCDOT would allow a trail to be built through a culvert through which the Swannanoa River flows under N.C. 9, Settlemyer said.

“It was all more conceptual from the beginning because there were places we thought we might be allowed to go through this tunnel or under the rail trestle,” he said in an interview last week. “Well, we found out that we couldn’t go through the existing tunnel under N.C. 9 or under the trestle, so we didn’t know what the costs would be.”

The railroad would not allow the town to make the connection under the trestle, instead requiring the town to construct it 150 feet east, where Flat Creek crosses under the tracks.

NCDOT gave permission for the town to construct a trail along the river under N.C. 9, but to do so a new tunnel must be added, according to Settlemyer.

The greenway will continue through the property at 304 Black Mountain Ave., recently purchase by the town. A spur connecting that site to downtown will be built as well, according to Settlemyer. The primary trail will continue to the The Oaks Greenway, which connects Vance Avenue to Veterans Park.

Now that the alignment of the project is in place, the town can now seek the funding needed for the construction of Riverwalk Greenway Phase II. The grant the town is seeking would contribute 80 percent of the funding and require the town to cover the remaining 20 percent.

The deadline for submitting the application for the grant was March 29, according to Settlemyer, but the town’s submission had been filed by March 28.

“The (French Broad Metropolitan Planning Organization) meets in April, and that’s when we’ll likely find out if we’ll receive that funding” he said.

Settlemyer is optimistic about the town’s chances for several reasons, he said.

“We’ve obviously received funding from them in the past and they’re supportive of the project,” he said. “We’ve done the leg work on this project, and I feel confident the MPO understands the importance of it.”

Connecting existing trails on opposite ends of the town will also benefit organizations like Connect Buncombe, which envisions a county connected by various greenway systems. To that end, the town made a presentation in March requesting $400,000 from Buncombe County.

“We took (county officials) on a bus ride around and showed them what we need and how we would spend the money,” Settlemyer said. “This greenway system isn’t only part of Black Mountain’s trails, it also ties into the county’s trails. So we’re asking them to contribute some money for the project.”

Black Mountain’s greenway system will also be used to connect McDowell County to Buncombe County for the Fonta Flora Trail, a N.C. State Parks project that will eventually connect Morganton to Asheville by way of a 70- to 80-mile bike and foot trail.

Receiving additional funding through the MPO and Buncombe County would help “compress the timeline” for completion of the project, which has been in the planning stages since the end of 2015, according to Settlemyer.

“If all of the funding partners join in, then we could be only 18 months away from starting construction,” he said. “If those partners aren’t in place, then the design will still take place over the next 18 months but beginning construction of the greenway itself could take longer.”

Work on the second phase of the Riverwalk Greenway has “taken some time,” he said, but he believes its completion would be crowning achievement for the town.

“I really believe that Black Mountain will be a model for how greenways are constructed in other parts of the county,” he said. “You have to deal with DOT, Norfolk Southern and other private property owners, and that is not easy to do. I think eventually the county is going to have to do this in Enka, Woodfin and the River Arts District. Through our efforts with this we’ve helped show how that can be done.”