Gwen Cook hoofed along the urban crosswalks of uptown, halfway through a hectic morning of back-to-back meetings that scattered her across several points of the city like a child’s dot-to-dot puzzle.
But as she walked, her conversation snuffed out the car horns, flashing signals and the stench of city bus exhaust that swirled around her.
She was focused on the streams, lush foliage and serenity of nature along the greenways taking shape throughout the county.
Cook, a greenway planner for Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation, has been at it for awhile. She’s watched the county’s greenways pipe dream from nearly 50 years ago turn from a pencil and paper map into a tree-lined, pavement-path reality.
A fair share of greenway activity winds through University City.
So far, nine of the 202 miles in the master plan for the county’s greenways are built throughout University City and open for the public to enjoy.
Mallard Creek and Clark’s Creek greenways provide a 7-mile path, popular with bicyclists and runners, that meanders through several University City neighborhoods.
Toby Creek Greenway, a 1.6-mile stretch that crosses through the UNC Charlotte campus to connect University City Boulevard with the Mallard Creek Greenway, is filled with students during the semesters.
And according to the master plan, none of these established greenways in University City is finished growing yet.
Phase II construction of the Toby Creek Greenway, set to begin this spring, will add another mile to the greenway, connecting it to the Newell community.
Both Mallard Creek and Clark’s Creek greenways are approved for extensions as well, although construction dates have not yet been firmed up.
But that’s just the start of the greenway plans for northeast Charlotte. “There’s more that will be built,” said Cook.
The Charlotte City Council’s support of the Charlotte Cross City Trail, a 26-mile path of greenways from University City to Pineville, will help connect more dots between greenways throughout the area.
As a general rule, each mile of greenway costs around $1 million to build.
“And that’s without any bells and whistles,” said Cook. “A bare-bones trail without a lot of bridges.”
The county’s greenways are built through a variety of partnerships with the N.C. Department of Transportation, the city of Charlotte and the Carolina Thread Trail.
Cook said the council’s support of the cross-city trail would play a vital part creating University City’s greenways.
“That is going to be very important contribution to the University City area, to have that attention from the city,” said Cook. “It’s going to be on their bond referendum for 2016.”
In the meantime, two other approved greenways in the area, Barton Creek and Long Creek greenways, have entered their design phases.
Barton Creek Greenway, three-fifths of a mile of paved path, will link University Place and the North Tryon Street CATS station to the Mallard Creek Greenway. It will serve as a bypass while a portion of the Mallard Creek Greenway is closed during the NCDOT’s bridge replacement project on North Tryon Street.
Originally it was slated to open next fall, but Cook said the steep terrain of the area will keep the project in the design phase until fall, and blackout dates for asphalt work will most likely push construction back to spring or summer 2015.
“It continues to be challenging with the topography, but we kind of knew that going into the project,” she said.
Community meetings begin this month to hear input on the design for Phase I of Long Creek Greenway, a 1.2-mile stretch that runs along Long Creek near I-77 and Northlake Mall. The first phase is anticipated to be finished in summer 2016.