Chapel Hill News

Carrboro filmmaker wades into Bolin Creek paving debate

A footpath tracing the bank of Bolin Creek is the subject of a local documentary debuting Sunday, Jan. 15, 2017, at the ArtsCenter in Carrboro. Filmmaker Charlie Morris set out to explore the creek, the forest surrounding it and questions about a plan that potentially could pave the trail.
A footpath tracing the bank of Bolin Creek is the subject of a local documentary debuting Sunday, Jan. 15, 2017, at the ArtsCenter in Carrboro. Filmmaker Charlie Morris set out to explore the creek, the forest surrounding it and questions about a plan that potentially could pave the trail. Staff photo

A local filmmaker will explore diversity and controversy in the Bolin Creek forest Sunday while raising money to help preserve the land.

Doors open at 3 p.m. at the ArtsCenter in Carrboro for the premiere of “Bolin Creek Unpaved: Saving Carrboro’s Last Forest.” Proceeds will benefit the nonprofit group Friends of Bolin Creek, which advocates for preserving the creek and surrounding forest.

Carrboro filmmaker Charlie Morris has spent years hiking, biking and exploring the area with his family. He doesn’t pay much attention to town politics and hadn’t heard about the debate over whether to pave a path along the creek, he said.

“The only agenda I had was that I would always end up landing on the side of I don’t think it should be paved, but honestly, I learned so much along the way that I didn’t know,” Morris said.

The town of Carrboro’s plan has raised a lot of questions about what’s going to happen, how it will affect the environment and whether it’s too late to stop the work, Morris said. He spent three months researching and shooting the footage, with help from his son Quinn, 19, and daughter Zoe, 15, he said.

“Most of the angle of my film is not pointing fingers or beating up the (Board of Aldermen) at all. I come from a deeply ingrained, optimistic angle that everyone’s doing the best they can,” Morris said. “I try to promote a very compelling case, hopefully, for a sense of urgency for all of us to work together to preserve it.”

A 2009 plan shows a 4.8-mile greenway in the creek corridor, from north of Homestead Road to Estes Drive Extension. The path crosses one of the area’s last riparian forests (woods next to water) – 400-plus acres owned by the town, UNC and a private citizen.

The town has finished a paved section from Wilson Park to Estes Drive, and the aldermen approved a second leg last year linking Chapel Hill High School across Bolin Creek to neighborhoods north of Homestead Road. It’s being built now.

The final sections – Phases 3 and 4 linking the high school to Estes Drive Extension – are the most controversial.

The town must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and meet other requirements for a 10-foot-wide, paved path in order to use future federal money. There is no money now.

The town’s Greenways Commission recently discussed alternatives to asphalt or concrete pavement and the possibility of using the nearby railroad corridor instead.

Heavy rains have eroded Bolin Creek’s banks, and some spots flood, becoming impassable. Critics say paving the trail would hurt wildlife and natural resources, while adding to stormwater runoff exacerbated by upstream development.

“I think one could view this area as prime for a conservation area, and it’s so special to have a forest with that degree of ecological diversity and wildlife so near the center of two towns. It’s an incredible resource,” said Julie McClintock, Friends of Bolin Creek president.

The community could look instead at a route along existing roads and paved paths, Morris said.

“Once you fragment a forest with pavement, it’s not a forest, it’s a park, and that’s what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about turning a forest into a transportation corridor. That’s not what forests are for,” he said.

Paving pluses

But creekside resident Dave Otto says paving the proposed route would still leave much of the forest for wildlife, while giving more people, including himself, the opportunity to walk and bike along the creek, even when it rains.

“The condition of the (trail) along the creek prevents a significant segment of the population from using it – those that have any handicaps, elderly people who have difficulty navigating the rough terrain along the creek,” he said.

A paved greenway also could complete the trail network from Morris Grove Elementary School on Eubanks Road to Community Center Park in Chapel Hill, he said, providing northern neighbors with off-road access to both towns.

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb

If you go

“Bolin Creek Unpaved: Saving Carrboro’s Last Forest” starts at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 15, at the ArtsCenter, 300 E Main St. Doors open at 3 p.m.

A reception, with door prizes and music from the Bolin Creek String Band, will follow. Tickets are $10 for the general public and $5 for students through the ArtsCenter website and at the box office.

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