Those who frequent the Neuse River Greenway Trail may be in for a surprise this weekend – thousands of radiant sunflowers along the path are in bloom. But as beautiful as they are, there is a purpose behind their presence.
The sunflowers have become an annual attraction for residents and tourists alike. As the plants grow each year, so does the anticipation until one day the field of green along the trail’s Mile Marker 23 is transformed into a sea bursting with swaying, yellow blooms.
The show usually takes place only between late June and mid-July.
But did you ever wonder why this one field is planted with sunflowers?
The answer isn’t quite as pretty as the flowers. The sunflower field also serves as an application site for biosolids from the Neuse River Resource Recovery Facility, the city’s wastewater treatment plant.
Biosolids are byproducts of cleaning and treating wastewater. According to the EPA, local governments have several options of what to do with the biosolids, including incineration, burial at a landfill or applying them to lands.
The recovery facility, as in 81 other N.C. counties, applies the waste to lands, but the biosolids are nitrogen-rich and can be washed into streams and rivers, contributing to algal blooms and diminished water quality. This is where the sunflowers get involved. Planting the field with sunflowers helps prevent the nitrogen-rich soil from eroding into the watershed.
There also is a second reason for growing sunflowers. In 2010, the City of Raleigh began looking into whether a sunflower seed harvest could be used to produce biofuel. Twenty-seven acres at the facility were planted initially, and with the assistance of a third party, the sunflower seeds were crushed to yield 1,258 gallons of biodiesel fuel.
The city has since acquired its own “Mobile Biofuel Processor,” funded in part with a Bioenergy Research Initiative grant. The mobile platform is contained within a tractor trailer that permits on-site fuel production while also serving as an educational tool. In the end, the biodiesel helps fuel Raleigh’s fleet of tractors and farm equipment.
For most people, though, the beauty of the flowers is the main attraction. Kim Franciosi often cycles the trail with her husband but had never seen the sunflowers. After seeing photos her neighbor took, she made a special trip Friday to see the flowers with her daughter.
“I think it’s absolutely beautiful,” Franciosi said, “I want to get in there, but we’re not supposed to.”
Jeremy Frieling: 919-829-4610
See the sunflowers
▪ The flowers are near Mile Marker 23 of the Neuse River Greenway Trail and will be in peak bloom until mid-July.
▪ To access the trail, park at the Auburn-Knightdale lot at 2901 Auburn-Knightdale Road (about 2 miles to the sunflowers) or at the Mial Plantation access point at 6008 Mial Plantation Road (about 1.5 miles to the sunflowers).