Ribbon Cut for Mount Airy Greenway Connector

By Tom Joyce - tjoyce@civitasmedia.com

Years of planning, coordination and hard work were celebrated Friday when a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held for Mount Airy’s new greenway connector. Although that link to the existing Emily B. Taylor and Ararat River greenways has been open to the public for several months, no official program had been conducted to welcome the connector as the city’s newest recreational resource.

That formality typically associated with the opening of such facilities was taken care of in a big way Friday when about 65 people attended the ceremony held at site just off U.S. 52 at a bridge built as part of the recent greenway project. The location chosen is near the spot where the Taylor greenway ended, but which now provides bicyclists, joggers or walkers a gateway to a 10-foot-wide paved trail of nearly seven continuous miles.

The “road” to supply that was even longer in terms of the time and preparation required. “This has been about a 15-year process to get to where we are today,” said Michael “Squeak” Smith of The Resource Institute in Winston-Salem, a non-profit organization that helped Mount Airy obtain funding for its greenway system.

“Vision” realized

The timeline Smith referred to dates to when the Taylor greenway came about along Lovills Creek, which was joined by the building of the Ararat River Greenway about eight years after that and the connector linking them during the past year. But the groundwork had been laid long before, in the aftermath of a devastating local flood in 1979, Mayor David Rowe said during Friday’s program.

That calamity led to a massive flood-control project along both Lovills Creek and the Ararat River which met the immediate need to keep those waterways in check, while also spawning a vision for the future, Rowe said. Tom Webb, a local businessman who formerly was a grants administrator for the municipality, saw the possibilities for the greenway. Webb had the foresight in the 1980s to advocate the acquisition of extra rights of way from affected property owners in addition to those needed for flood-control channels and stream widening — which Rowe said resulted in today’s greenway network.

“This, of course, was the start of that vision,” the mayor said of Webb’s efforts many years ago. Yet the “dream” also required planning — and money, Rowe told Friday’s gathering that included other city officials and staff members; employees of Smith-Rowe, LLC, which built the connector; local chamber of commerce and tourism officials; elected state representatives including Sen. Shirley Randleman; and interested citizens. The recent connector and related stream-restoration, totaling about $3.8 million, was made possible by various grants obtained with the help of The Resource Institute, along with a $430,000 allocation by the city government. The lion’s share of the funding was a $2.2 million grant awarded to Mount Airy by the N.C. Department of Transportation. Without that allocation, city Parks and Recreation Director Catrina Alexander told the crowd, “this project would not be.”

Mike Pettyjohn of the N.C. Department of Transportation, who is based in North Wilkesboro as the division engineer for the DOT unit that includes Surry County, also spoke during Friday’s ceremony. Pettyjohn said that in addition to recreation, the connector has helped provide alternative transportation opportunities for local residents — with his words nearly drowned out by tractor-trailers and other heavy traffic roaring by on U.S. 52. “This project is an example of what can happen when the municipality and the state partner together,” he said.

Another speaker, Charles Anderson, the executive director of The Resource Institute, says Mount Airy is helping to inspire other communities with similar greenway hopes. “You are the envy of many North Carolina cities and towns,” Anderson said. “People from all over have come here to see what you’re doing.” Although she wasn’t able to attend Friday’s event, Susan Kluttz, the secretary of the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, who has visited Mount Airy multiple times, sent written remarks that Rowe read.

“Congratulations to Mayor Rowe and the Mount Airy community on the opening of the Lovills Creek-Ararat River Greenway connector,” Kluttz wrote. “One of the reasons visitors come to North Carolina is for the scenic beauty our state has to offer and this new, expanded greenway exemplifies this,” she added while also pointing to its economic potential. “Mount Airy understands that quality of life is one of the many ingredients that spark economic development, more jobs and increased tourism,” Kluttz wrote. “Combined with their leadership in historic preservation, Mount Airy is a bright example of a vibrant community.”

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.