The ribbon that was cut to officially dedicate Mount Airy’s new greenway connector had barely hit the ground before officials began discussing an extension of the city trail system.
However, one local leader believes Mount Airy could be going too far with its plans to extend the greenway by another 3.2 to four miles to the White Sulphur Springs resort property north of town.
“I’m concerned about the distance,” Commissioner Shirley Brinkley said. “I think it’s unrealistic.”
Brinkley explained that the expansion to White Sulphur Springs — which would extend the city’s greenway network from just under seven miles to around 10 miles — would appeal to bicyclists who use the trail, but not walkers.
The distance given for that extension has varied from the 3.2-mile figure to about four miles, which presumably depends on the exact route chosen.
Brinkley’s comments came during a meeting of the city Finance Committee held last Friday afternoon, shortly after a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the 2.2-mile connector that links the Emily B. Taylor and Ararat River greenways.
The “Northern Section” now being eyed would cost between $4 million and $5 million-plus, according to figures presented during that and an earlier meeting. This would pay for extending the paved 10-foot-wide Ararat River Greenway from its present end point at Riverside Park, and related streambank restoration.
That would require obtaining easements from about six property owners along the way.
Agreement for grants
In April, the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners voted 4-0 (with one member absent) to earmark $75,000 per year in city funding for the project over the next four to five years, beginning with this (2016-2017) fiscal year.
But it is hoped the bulk of the greenway extension could be funded by allocations or grants from outside agencies. That was the case with the recent connector, which was largely paid by $2.2 million awarded by the N.C. Department of Transportation, with the city government also chipping in $430,000.
To seek grants for the greenway segment now planned, an agreement is in the works with The Resource Institute, a non-profit organization in Winston-Salem which has assisted Mount Airy in obtaining funding for its previous greenway projects.
Charles Anderson, a Resource Institute representative who attended the Finance Committee meeting, said his organization already has been able to land a $500,000 grant for the next greenway phase and also is applying for a trust fund grant of $450,000.
Having a historic site such as White Sulphur Springs included on the route is expected to improve the chances of obtaining grants.
Anderson added that the new agreement would give The Resource Institute “full authority” to seek further grants on the city’s behalf.
“We need to get our agreement in place,” he said.
No financial terms for it were mentioned during the meeting, which was held as a preliminary step to ensure Mount Airy officials are on board with the greenway work now planned.
The agreement is expected to be prepared in time for it to be considered at a Nov. 18 meeting of the commissioners.
In 2011, when the city was at a similar stage with The Resource Institute — on the heels of it providing grant-seeking services for the Ararat River Greenway — an agreement was forged for it to continue those services with the connector.
A $30,000 budget amendment was approved in September of that year to cover the institute’s additional work.
In addition to questioning the length of the White Sulphur Springs greenway extension, Brinkley — who sits on the city Finance Committee along with Commissioner Steve Yokeley — expressed concerns about its cost.
After other city officials present Friday cited the tourism and economic-development benefits the greenway expansion offers to the community, along with attracting new residents, Brinkley responded with skepticism.
“I’ve never seen anything that says (someone) moved into the community because of this,” Brinkley said of the greenway availability.
“I don’t see it,” she added.
“We’ve seen some numbers,” City Manager Barbara Jones replied regarding such growth, without citing a specific study or source. But Jones added that it’s hard to “validate everything,” and said such factors as making life better in the community also must be considered.
Mount Airy Parks and Recreation Director Catrina Alexander pointed out that the existing greenway network has spawned new businesses that sell running shoes and bicycles, among other developments.
Brinkley said the taxpayers might not see things in that light.
“You have to think on their terms as well, because they’re the ones who put the dollars in the pot,” she said of the greenway expense.
“What I look at is how much it’s costing, how much you’re getting back.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.