Construction of the Toby Creek Greenway Phase 2, linking UNC Charlotte with Autumnwood, will begin in the spring of 2014, according to Gwen Cook, greenway planner for Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation.
Cook and other officials working on the greenway presented a timetable and updated plans at a community workshop April 8 at Newell Presbyterian Church. Approximately 40 people, many of them residents of nearby Autumnwood, Knollwood and Crab Orchard subdivisions, attended this second and final public meeting before project implementation.
The new section of greenway begins near University City Boulevard at W.T. Harris Boulevard, where it links to Phase 1 of the Toby Creek Greenway through the UNCC campus, completed in 2012. After paralleling N.C. 49 as it passes under W.T. Harris Boulevard, the greenway will follow Toby Creek between the Target and Lowe’s stores on Chancellor Park Drive, and continue south along the creek’s flood plain between Knollwood and Crab Orchard to the corner of Rockland Drive and Rocky River Road West. The trail will then follow Rockland, linking to a separate city sidewalk project at the corner of Blue Rock Drive and Rockland Drive.
Project consultant Bert Lynn, of Raleigh-based Stewart Engineering, said most of the greenway will be a 10-foot-wide paved trail, with a 2-feet gravel shoulder on each side, making the total width about 15 feet. Three bridges will span Toby Creek between Autumnwood and N.C. 49. The route is within a 200-foot SWIM buffer that protects the creek. The greenway route can be modified to protect existing trees. The trail will use an existing drainage box culvert to go under Chancellor Park Drive near Target. Due to an existing embankment, the section along Rockland Drive in Autumnwood will be a 550- to 600-foot raised boardwalk rather than a paved trail.
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The streambed of Toby Creek in this section is severely degraded by channeling, but will not be restored to a more natural and sustainable condition, Cook said. This remains a priority for the future.
In contrast to the first workshop, held in February, where opponents and supporters voiced contrasting views, a clear majority who spoke at April’s meeting appeared to favor the plan. Support was not unanimous, however. One Crab Orchard resident again raised concerns about having the greenway pass 65 feet from his property line. Cook responded by suggesting working with nonprofit groups to plant trees. Cook also responded to worries about security.
“Greenways have the fewest safety issues of all Park and Recreation facilities,” she said.
Supporters did have many suggestions for changes, however. Lead by Autumnwood president John Neilson, a cyclist and long-time greenway supporter who works at UNCC, participants pushed for improved access and other design modifications. Noting the lack of a park or playground in the area, Brad Busiek, pastor of Newell Presbyterian, urged Park and Recreation to conserve space in an open field along Toby Creek, at Rocky River Road West and Rockland slated for the greenway’s boardwalk section. That space is now used by neighborhood children for informal ballgames and play.
Neilson and others also advocated completing the next section of the greenway along upper Toby Creek between Autumnwood and Tryon Street as a high priority item for county greenway planners.
Phase 2 of the Toby Creek greenway is a public-private partnership funded by three grants, from the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), the city of Charlotte, and The Carolina Thread Trail, according to Cook. The project has been decades in the making. Long-time resident and community leader Richard Suddreth, who lives on Rockland Drive, recalls community efforts to create walking trails to serve University City in the 1970s.
When open, the new stretch of Toby Creek Greenway will become part of the county’s longest network of greenways northwest of the UNCC campus, and provide a connection to the cross-city network eventually providing bike and pedestrian links to NoDa and uptown, Cook said.