Storms left a mess on Triangle greenways, but that doesn’t stop avid users

Three days of rain spilled water, mud and tree branches onto greenways throughout the Triangle this week, but that isn’t stopping avid runners and cyclists from hitting the trails – even if they have to brave knee-high water, swirling currents and washed-out bridges.

“We are going to get out there no matter what,” said Arianne Hemlein, an organizer for Raleigh Trail Runners, a social group that regularly uses the greenways and William B. Umstead Park. “We don’t usually get to run in inclement weather, and we just love it. We’re a weird bunch.”

Crews are still working to clear debris from the Capital Area Greenway System, which spans more than 100 miles. Some sections of the greenway were still underwater Thursday, two days after the rain stopped.

The greenway system, which was started in the 1970s, features paved trails that often follow creek beds and lakes, including Crabtree Creek and Shelley Lake. When the area sees a lot of rain, the trails can get messy.

Greenway users should be careful because a thin layer of mud and residue from the floodwater can make asphalt and wooden bridges slippery, said David Hamilton, Raleigh’s greenway manager.

The city realizes people are going to use the popular trails even in the aftermath of poor weather, Hamilton said. So crews try to work fast to remove debris that could cause a runner or biker to fall and also to scrape silt from the surfaces.

Once the debris and silt are removed, workers use hot-air blowers to dry the surfaces.

“It takes a few weeks just to get the silt off things,” Hamilton said. “There’s still a lot more (places) that we haven’t gotten to yet.”

On Thursday, the water was too high for crews to begin cleaning up at Shelley Lake Park and Lake Lynn Park in Raleigh, he said. At Shelley, the water “is over the handrails” around the lake. Hamilton expects the water to recede by Sunday, and then workers can start the cleanup process.

A section of the Walnut Creek Trail between Lake Dam Road and Gorman Street in Raleigh was also submerged Thursday. Some asphalt along the Crabtree Creek Trail washed away in the storm, which dumped six to nine inches of rain.

Hemlein said she ran several miles at Umstead on Tuesday and had to turn around at one point because of floodwater. But she’s used to such things – a tree has fallen in front of her twice while she was running in bad weather.

“I was stomping through puddles and hopping over logs,” Hemlein said of her run Tuesday. “I love running during storms.”

Stephane Daniel, another organizer with the Raleigh Trail Runners, did not let the deluge keep him from leading a running group at Umstead on Tuesday morning. The Sycamore Trail at the park had “disappeared under a foot of water,” he said.

Sections of the the Company Mill Trail were impossible to navigate, Daniel said, and several wooden bridges than span creeks had washed away.

“It was like running through a riverbed,” Daniel said. “The waters were roaring. It wouldn’t have been wise to do any kind of running or hiking if you didn’t know the park super well.”

On Tuesday, Wake Forest closed the town’s entire greenway system because of severe flooding along the trails. Greenways reopened Wednesday, except the Smith Creek portion at Burlington Mills Road, which will be closed indefinitely.

Cary did not have to close any of its parks or greenways, said landscape architect Joe Godfrey.

“The people who use the greenways are tough,” said Alisa Wright Colopy, a fitness and wellness coach who often runs the greenways in Cary.

Despite the rain, a half-marathon Colopy organized along the greenways in Cary on Sunday went on as planned.

The wooden bridges along the trails were still slippery Tuesday, causing several bicyclists to wipe out, Colopy said.

“You’d hear a thud and then a scream,” she said. “It’s a hazard, but everyone was fine and got back on their bikes. Their egos were the only thing that was bruised.”

Madison Iszler: 919-836-4952; miszler@newsobserver.com