A trail alongside the Pigeon River may materialize between Canton and Clyde, but recreation will not be its primary purpose.
The goal is to create a buffer zone clear of any development 100 feet from the riverbank as a safeguard in the event of future floods. The buffer strip could additionally be used as a walking trail or biking trail beside the river.
“It’s much more than a recreational use — it’s mitigating a flood hazard,” said Canton Town Manager Al Matthews.
Haywood County, along with the towns of Canton and Clyde, undertook the project shortly after massive flooding on the Pigeon left a devastating wake in 2004.
All three worked together to lock down $1 million from the state Clean Water Management Trust Fund. Though that is far less than the $10 million they originally applied for, the trio still has a chance of receiving additional funding from Clean Water.
Most of the work on the trail now involves acquiring conservation easements for nearly 100 properties in the flood plain next to the river, a process that could take years.
Property owners will be reimbursed for participating with a share of the $1 million that’s been set aside.
Though the program would be mutually beneficial to both landowners and the river, it will be strictly voluntary, according to Tony Sexton, project specialist for Haywood County.
For those who participate, farming alongside the Pigeon could continue, though building new structures would be forbidden.
For now, Sexton is not positive a full-fledged greenway will be achievable. He anticipates a checkerboard effect of conservation easements along the river.
“It’s unusual to get three or four property owners in a row that ever agree on anything,” said Sexton. “The odds of having a continuous swath of property owners is fairly remote.”
Asheville-based Martin-McGill Associates is coordinating the project and will be responsible for acquiring properties or negotiating conservation easements with property owners.
While everyone hopes that the 2004 disaster won’t repeat itself, a buffer would be helpful in case another major flood strikes, said Ellen McKinnon, grant administrator with Martin-McGill.
“This is a proactive thing to do before the next flood,” said Sexton.
McKinnon has begun talking to property owners about the easements, but still spends most of her time with paperwork at this stage.
Sexton agreed that securing the $1 million grant has been a drawn-out process.
“There’s lots of hoops to be jumped through and committees that only meet once every three months,” said Sexton.
Nevertheless, enthusiasm for the project hasn’t faded over the years.
“What we’re trying to do is make the Pigeon River as healthy as possible, so that it can handle the influx of water,” said McKinnon. “These buffers are incredibly helpful to keep the banks stable and keep that sedimentation out of the water.”
“We are excited,” said Joy Garland, town administrator for Clyde. “It’s a great opportunity for the towns, as well as the county.”