University City

Changes proposed for McAlpine park

McAlpine Creek Park in south Charlotte is a hub for area cross-country runners, walkers, cyclists and casual joggers.

The soft surface of the trails and central location attract recreational runners, and the park hosts high school and national cross-country events at its 5-kilometer course.

However, changes proposed at a public meeting earlier this year by Charlotte Mecklenburg Utilities would affect the running trails.

The changes probably will not begin until 2014 but would pave the entire greenway stretching from Sardis Road to Margaret Wallace Road. When funding becomes available, a stone base will be laid and covered with asphalt.

"McAlpine Park is the only place I know which is all soft surface," Charlotte Catholic coach Frank Shea said. "During the summer and fall, McAlpine is the mecca for high school runners."

McAlpine offers long, straight paths with mile markers.

"As a runner, I'm completely bummed that the one place centrally located in Charlotte to run on soft surfaces will no longer exist," said Providence Day cross-country coach Ben Hovis.

A sewer line also will be installed in the greenway section near the start of the cross-country course. Construction will take about 18 months and would affect most of the trail. The Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation Department plans to restrict contractor work within the cross-country course during the running season and hopes to accommodate at least 90 percent of scheduled events.

"The opportunity to stop sending tons of sediment into McAlpine Creek, to dramatically reduce maintenance cost, provide an accessible surface that everyone can use and slightly soften the alignment make the greenway more attractive," said Gwen Cook, the Greenway Planner for the Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation Department.

Mecklenburg County has proposed a loop on the east side of McAlpine Creek and the James Boyce Park Trail. Although community volunteers likely will be needed for implementation, the loop would provide more than five miles of soft-surface track.

"They are working on keeping a two-and-a-half-mile loop as well as the course, but for runners, five to six miles isn't a lot of running room," Hovis said.

Plans are to have 2 1/2 miles of natural trail in the James Boyce Park area that can be combined with the 3.2 miles of unaffected trail of the existing cross-country course.

"Having the additional described trails will be helpful, but if any paving is done on the course, the appeal of McAlpine for races will be lost," said Covenant Day coach Joe Rego.

The changes were proposed due to the impact the loose gravel on the trails has on the environment. During heavy rains, the gravel flows into the creek, chocking the aquatic life. The impact is felt into South Carolina.

The environmental concerns, combined with the substantial cost of replacing washed-away gravel - estimated by Mecklenburg Parks and Recreation at $30,000-$140,000 - is at the root of the proposed changes.

"Having granular material in the open utility corridor does not work and is costing Park and Recreation a lot of maintenance money each year. We can do better for our public and the environment," stated a news release issued by Cook's office.

"Our goal is to restore the disturbed portion in a way that satisfies our event audience," Cook said.

Rego said McAlpine offers an ideal practice location, and if teams are forced to run on paved surfaces, injuries would increase.

In addition to hosting local cross-country meets, the 5K course at McAlpine is home to the Southeast's top races, including Foot Locker regional races and the USA Track and Field Club Cross Country Championships.

"In these large races, there can be upwards of 400 athletes on the course at one time. ... They will be getting rid of the necessary width needed to host such meets," Hovis said.

The Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation Department plans to explore options such as building a soft-surface trail in another location and using a type of rubberized surface. Cook said they will work with area coaches to make sure everyone, especially the environment, wins.