The county recently won a $435,000 grant from the N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, which will finally kick-start construction. The county will put in the rest of the $1.1 million needed for the greenway construction. The county had previously spent $80,000 on right-of-way for the section.
The project includes a 1.25-mile stretch of greenway on the north side of Cullowhee. But the most costly piece will be a pedestrian bridge leading from a public parking area on one side of the river to the greenway itself on the other side.
Thanks to the bridge, the stretch of greenway can be accessed at both ends — from the terminus at both Monteith Gap Road and Locust Creek.
Without the bridge, the only place to jump on the greenway would have been Monteith Gap.
But the grant will make possible a bridge over the river at Locust Creek and allow access there as well.
“If we didn’t get the grant, I think all we could have done was built the segment from Monteith Road, down and back,” Wooten said.
The greenway has been in the making for about a decade.
The biggest challenge has been stitching together a right-of-way corridor. The property along the river is privately owned, requiring the county to negotiate with landowners to either buy land outright or get permission for the greenway to pass through.
The first phase of the greenway will still be many miles short of its ultimate goal of following 20 miles of the Tuckasegee as it snakes through Jackson County. The new stretch will stop a couple of river miles from campus, but those could be a long two miles with properties standing in the way that the county has not been able to get right-of-way easements for.
“Obviously would like to extend it even farther,” Wooten said. “But we haven’t been able to acquire the easements.”
The county had received a $400,000 grant from the Clean Water Management Trust Fund previously to help with right-of-way acquisition, but the county is still sitting on the money pending negotiations with property owners along the river to grant passage over their land. The county is running out of time to spend the grant or it will revert back to the state.
The county hopes to gain traction once property owners see the benefits — including increased property values — of having a greenway along the river.
If not, the county will try to apply the money toward another leg of the greenway instead.
— By Andrew Kasper and Becky Johnson