The path will add to the town’s greenway system and is tied to an expansion of the Dutch Fisher neighborhood park in the Hazelwood area.
The new 500-foot greenway section is not enough for a long walk, maybe, but sufficient to meander after a picnic lunch, let the kids splash in the water or go angling for trout, who are well-suited to the habitat this particular section provides.
“It’s real pretty,” said Town Planner Paul Benson said. “It’s right along the creek and fairly flat.”
A master greenway plan envisions a walking path that will one day follow Richland Creek all the way through town. But that’s a lofty dream. The creek is lined with homes and businesses as it meanders through the heart of town, so a greenway would have to cut through people’s yards.
The town has adopted a piecemeal approach, keeping an eye out for chances to add short sections to the greenway here and there. This will be the first time the town has actually managed to add a segment of greenway in the main part of town.
The greenway path will run from Dutch Fisher Park, a neighborhood park with a ball field, to a terminus on Killian Street near Waynesville Middle School.
The town had to undergo a tricky series of negotiations to acquire the 1-acre tract.
It all started when the N.C. Department of Transportation decided to widen a section of Howell Mill Road and would encroach onto the property of the Waynesville Recreation Center. The federal dollars the town used to purchase the rec property stipulated it must always remain in recreational use. The DOT couldn’t simply purchase the property. They had to swap it for something else.
“That was a difficult exchange to work out,” said Fred Baker, the town’s public works director. “It wasn’t a lot of property, so there wasn’t a lot of value. We had to find something [to exchange it for] that could be associated with some use for parks and recreation.”
Eventually, the town honed in a one-acre parcel in the floodplain of Richland Creek abuts Dutch Fisher Par. The property owners were willing to sell, so the DOT bought it and gave it to Waynesville in exchange for the land it consumed by the road widening project.
The sliver of property along the creek was actually part of a much larger undeveloped tract, about 15 acres.
The town approached the property owners, two women in Atlanta, about allowing public use of the vacant, wooded tract. Town Manager Marcy Onieal expects the lease to be finalized over the next couple of months.
“There’s not many undeveloped parcels within town limits,” she said. “This is a great opportunity for residents to get out and enjoy nature.”
The lease would likely provide that the town maintain an informal trail network that’s already there, allowing public access until the owners decided to put the land to some other use. The basic path for the greenway will be cleared by the town in coming months.
“I think it will be quick to get the bare bones in there,” Baker said. However, he would like to see the greenway improved, including some landscaping, in the future.
Haywood Waterways Association sees the new greenway as a chance to connect the public, and particularly youth, to the natural resources. The group has applied for a grant to create an environmental learning station along the creek.
“This is an exciting opportunity,” Onieal said.