The Black Mountain Greenway is filling up with people once again, not that it is ever empty, even on the coldest days.
On Saturday, April 8, the Lake Tomahawk Loop Trail, a stretch of the popular greenway, will fill with some 200 runners, many celebrating the greenway system that makes running and exercising in Black Mountain so much easier.
The 10th annual Black Mountain Greenway Challenge starts at Pisgah Brewing Co. The 5K and 10K races raise both money and awareness for the town’s well-used and much-loved greenway. The town's greenway plan, adopted in 2002, calls for an expansion of the Riverwalk Greenway that will connect the Flat Creek Greenway to The Oaks Greenway via the dog park.
The half-mile Oaks Trail, part of the town’s greenway, is now part of a much larger system, known as the Fonta Flora State Trail. That trail will one day connect Morganton to Asheville. Organizers hope that a portion of Black Mountain’s Riverwalk Greenway will also be designated part of the state trail in the future.
The idea for the Black Mountain Greenway Challenge occurred in 2006, when Jon McNair, who that year sat on the town’s greenway commission in its infancy, conferred with two friends and fellow runners.
“Myself, Katy Copley and Shelly Bullock had the idea to create a run with just friends of ours,” he said. “Pisgah (Brewing) was new; it hadn’t been open long at all. We were going to do a casual run that started there and ended there.”
The trio considered a route that would bring attention to the greenway, a relatively new concept in Black Mountain at the time. They approached the brewery with the idea.
“The green space back behind Pisgah (Brewing) is such a great space, and at that time people were really beginning to use that space to get together and hang out,” McNair said. “That made it a nice place to hold an event like this.”
The inaugural race took place April 5, 2008. Despite the rain, about 180 runners showed up. The following year the town began directing the race.
Since the first year the Challenge has continued to thrive, attracting 200-225 runners annually. While the race has grown, so has the greenway it benefits, said Julie White, who chairs the greenway commission.
“There has always been support for the concept of greenways,” she said. “People want the town to be more walkable.”
White serves on the board of Friends of Connect Buncombe, which is helping drive a campaign to build greenways throughout the county. People in other parts of Buncombe look toward Black Mountain for the work it has done on its greenway, White said.
Black Mountain’s greenway is currently composed of five distinct trails, many of which are connected via temporary connectors, such as residential streets with sidewalks. The Challenge takes runners to one of the town’s most popular greenways, the Lake Tomahawk Loop Trail.
Becki Janes is entering her fourth year as the director of the Greenway Challenge, which the local business community continues to embrace, she said. Nearly two dozen businesses from the Swannanoa Valley are sponsoring this year’s event.
“We really wouldn’t be able to do this without our sponsors,” she said. “We’ve been really fortunate to receive the support we’ve received.”
Janes views the event as more of a “friend-raiser” than a fundraiser. “The race field has become a lot more competitive over the years," she said, "but my goal has been to maintain it as a viable fundraiser while really reaching out to the community about our greenway.”
As in past Challenges there will be a booth that explains the town's greenway system as well as its future. Materials in the exhibit were created by local cartographers and artists.
Benton Wharton, Pisgah Brewing's events and public relations director, said the brewery has been happy to host the Challenge for a decade.
“Anything that uplifts responsible community endeavors is something we’re interested in,” he said. “Utilizing means of travel that are both healthy and good for the environment is important to us, and the greenway commission is providing the opportunity for the community to do just that.”
McNair is proud of what the event he and his friends came up with all those years ago has become.
"It has turned into a real community event," he said. "It's really served the purpose. We really wanted to help the community see the need for greenways and the benefit of them. I think this event has really helped raise awareness."
Be in the running
What: Black Mountain Greenway Challenge
When: 2 p.m. April 8
Start: Pisgah Brewing Co.
Cost: $35 5K, $45 10K