SWANNANOA - A $30 million Open Space Bond, passed by voters in November, has secured the future of two greenways in Buncombe County, with more on the way.
But when can county residents expect the new miles of trail to materialize, and which communities will ultimately see greater connectivity and long-awaited payoff?
These were among the questions addressed by county staff at a March 15 public meeting, where 20 residents gathered in the media center of Community High School in Swannanoa, many optimistic about plans to come, others frustrated by a conversation that felt eerily familiar.
How much bond money will be dedicated to greenways?
The open space bond is intended to fund three types of projects: land conservation, construction of greenways and development of passive recreation. The bond has a seven-year term limit, with a possible three-year extension.
While the city of Asheville is home to about 10 miles of greenway, county spokesperson Kassi Day said Buncombe does not currently have any greenways located entirely in the county. The Enka Heritage Trail, among the projects slated for completion with the bond funds, would be the first.
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Of the $30 million, there's no designated split — so it's currently undecided how much of the funds will go to greenways. But Principal Park Planner Thomas Gull, who led the public meeting, said about $5 million has been committed to the completion of the Woodfin Greenway and the Enka Heritage Trail.
Money left over will be used to fund other greenway projects in the county, he said, which will be evaluated by staff and ultimately approved by the Recreation Services Advisory Board and County Commissioners.
"That’s really the bulk of what we’re here to talk about tonight, is how do we want those projects that are presented to the county to be evaluated?" Gull said.
Draft criteria includes:
But there's a way to go before future projects are considered and, ultimately, approved. First, said Gull, the county must complete its two ongoing projects, which are estimated to be finished in fiscal year 2025.
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What are the two current projects?
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Residents offer input
While there was excitement in the room about impending projects, some community members, like Chrysse Everhart, who has lived in Swannanoa for 25 years, voiced frustrations.
She said it's a process the community has been through before, one that was ultimately derailed and years of work disregarded. Everhart referenced similar greenway planning efforts in 2006, which she said were stifled by the 2008 recession, and never revived.
For her, Everhart said, it's about "location, location, location."
"I’ve attended a lot of these meetings in other parts of the county, and this one is in the area that I always go to those meetings wanting to address," she said.
In her "wildest dreams," a greenway would stretch from Black Mountain to Azalea Park, creating multimodal connectivity along a key area corridor.
"That was the dream," she said. “There’s still pockets of interest, it’s just been really frustrating to see, over a long period of time now, over a decade, our little priority segment just becoming forgotten."
Everhart was not the only one eager for greater connectivity in Swannanoa. Parks and Recreation Director Allison Dains said that was among the reasons the meeting was held in Swannanoa — for its accessible location, but also because with commitments made to Enka and Woodfin, they were trying to expand their reach and be more "equitable" throughout the county.
Katie Houston, Swannanoa born and raised, was at the meeting with her mom, Maureen Quinn.
For Houston, she said equity and accessibility were her top priorities, as well making Swannanoa more traversable for people without a car.
“It’s always been notoriously inconvenient if you don’t have a car," she said. "From people walking along Swannanoa River Road … to not being able to bike anywhere in this city, it’s just notoriously inconvenient.”
Quinn added a desire to see more places for families and children, and noted environmental concerns, as well.
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Despite some doubts in the room, Quinn said there were plenty of good plans already created, "we just need to get it done."
“Enka is west, Woodfin is north, time for Swannanoa east to Black Mountain, hopefully," she said.
Houston added that she feels "optimistic," though acknowledged she hasn't seen the "rise and fall" of other projects over the decades. Of the county, she said, “it seems like they are being very transparent and authentic, too. Trying to make something good that is going to benefit the public.”
Answering some of the concerns, Dains noted, "there is a lot of momentum. We've got a bond."
"The thing about a bond is it is ensured projects. There will 100% be projects that come out of this. Whereas previously, all of that funding was not necessarily there or designated. We know that as a result of this, we will indeed have new greenways.”
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For residents who want to offer input on the criteria by which the county will eventually evaluate greenway projects that apply for bond funds, visit the community survey and public input page at https://publicinput.com/d4606#5.
The survey is open until March 31.
Later in March, staff will revise criteria based on feedback received by the public and stakeholders. In March and April, stakeholders will receive updated criteria for final input before the Recreation Services Advisory Board does a last review.
The greenway criteria will be presented to the County Commission for approval in June.
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Then, the waiting begins. After a two year gap, once the Enka and Woodfin projects are complete, a request for proposals for more bond-funded greenway projects will launch in January 2026.
Dains said the two-year gap is a good thing: giving organizations, towns and townships a chance to get a feasibility study in hand.
“They’ve got two years to get aligned with criteria and ensure that their project is the strongest case possible for funding,” she said.
Sarah Honosky is the city government reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA TODAY Network. News Tips? Email [email protected] or message on Twitter at @slhonosky.