I’ve spent time along and in Bolin Creek.
Led a couple of cleans by the Chapel Hill Community Center, strode the paved path from there up to MLK Boulevard, walked both the narrow sidewalk along Umstead Drive to Umstead Park and the unpaved sewer line that parallels it on the south side of the creek. Conducted the Tashlich ritual at the bridge in Umstead Park for the Jewish New Year and slogged around in various sections upstream of Estes Drive almost to Homestead Road.
But I’d never walked all the way from Jones Branch headwaters near Morris Grove Elementary School down to Estes Drive until last week Not least with an eye toward this being a contiguous, non-motorized corridor running about six miles from Morris Grove to Chapel Hill Community Center, a scenic green quiet but accessible pathway mostly along the stream. The highly detailed and well thought out 2009 Carrboro concept plan for the proposed greenway system (nando.com/12m) optimistically states: “The Bolin Creek Greenway will do more than simply serve as a transportation corridor; rather, it will become a destination within the Town that allows for community gathering, recreation, and education. The Bolin Creek Greenway has the opportunity to be a contiguous trail system, connecting Chapel Hill to Carrboro, and ultimately extending to Orange County.”
After two walks I am a believer in this vision.
As I found on my first walk when I polled walkers, bikers and runners, not everyone favors the idea of a paved pathway along this whole length. My wildly unscientific survey began on a beautiful March Sunday afternoon just after the spring thaw when I headed downstream from the bridge at Homestead Road. The first four people surveyed favored paving as we passed each other trying to avoid huge mud puddles just south of the bridge. All four looked to be in my cohort – that is the ambulatory 60-plus crowd.
My next two voters, a young couple with a mud-loving pair of Yorkshire terriers were ambivalent. – Initially they were a “no.” Then they asked me why I favored paving and I said for the people with strollers, those who have difficulty walking, cyclists, skaters and the soon-to-be older population; then they waivered and allowed that perhaps paving was a good solution. The next couple, also perhaps in my cohort were also an initial ‘no’, but when I asked ‘How about in ten years?”, then, apparently contemplating their fates, they answered “Yes, then.” The following eleven queries were all definitively opposed. All but one appeared to be under 40. After that I stopped bothering others and concentrated on the hike.
Moving downstream, families were playing in and along the creek; children oblivious to the chilly water temperatures while their parents studiously avoided getting wet. A whimsical mid-stream rock “sculpture garden” further down evidenced our playful side once we’re freed from daily drudgeries. Then, under the railroad trestle I confronted my first serious stream crossing.
I inched out along the first big rock and surveyed the short distance to shore, poking my telescoping metal Wal-Mart hiking stick into the rushing water, at least 18 inches, through the bottom sediment before I hit solid ground. Then I pivoted on the stick to a second rock where I began to slide. Why fight this? Slowly, almost gracefully, I slipped in and walked across getting soaked just short of my knees.
Scrambling up the bank on to Estes Drive, I dripped my way across and bushwhacked back to the heart of the stream valley now in Chapel Hill territory, edging along the steep bank perhaps twenty feet above the creek. I ran out of bank just when a convenient bridge, I mean a sewer pipe with supporting girders appeared. Guiding words printed in tiny chalk letters on the pipe flange read, “Do not fall’. I took that advice. Once again on terra firma and the sewer line right-of-way, it was a short hop to Umstead Park where I met up with my wife and two friends who took me for a sock-drying libation at the Root Cellar.
The following Sunday, I started my exploration upstream on a very lightly used paved path near the headwaters of Jones Branch Creek in the mostly undeveloped Twin Creeks Park. This ten-foot wide concrete path beginning at Morris Grove School and running about 0.6 miles south was built in 2011 by Orange County for $900,000. It ends near the Carrboro town line and the County does not intend to do any further paving. Not much is required to connect to the existing Bolin Creek Greenway at Lake Hogan Farms but the adjoining land is privately owned and awaiting development that will presumably include this greenway segment.
The 2009 Carrboro Greenway plan details that future connection to the Bolin Creek Greenway, but for now the route follows the sewer line right-of-way, almost to the confluence of Jones Branch with Bolin Creek, but first you have to leave the right of way, climb the bank, traverse the road, scramble back down, bushwhack about a hundred yards, and take a brief inadvertent shin-deep creek dip.
There a paved portion of Bolin Creek Greenway through Lake Hogan Farms comes into view. This paved segment ends at the border with some UNC-owned land. From there it’s an easy but unpaved walk to the new Winmore and Claremont subdivisions whose developers have created trails that skirt the creek at a few points.
At the southeast edge of Claremont, Carrboro has scheduled for construction this year a paved 2,100 foot segment of the greenway that will tie into the existing Claremont paved path, come under Homestead Road, then cross the creek and go up to Chapel Hill High School. That short piece will cost about $980,000 according to the Town. There are no firm plans or funds yet to pave any more of this greenway, but I might live to see the day.
You can reach Blair Pollock at firstname.lastname@example.org