Proposed Bolin Creek greenway sparks decade-long controversy

By Gregory Hall

Bolin Creek is at the center of a long-running controversy.  The creek runs through Carrboro and Carolina North Forest, one of the last untouched habitats in the area. Since 2009, some Carrboro leaders have wanted to build a greenway along the creek. Opponents say that would destroy the pristine environment. Gregory Hall has more.


CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the Carrboro Greenways Commission supports the paving plan. In fact, neither the commission nor the Carrboro Board of Aldermen has voted on the issue. Commission chair Charlie Hileman is expressing his own opinion in this story, not the views of commission members.



  1. Over 1000 citizens have signed a petition to support NOT paving along the Carrboro section of Bolin Creek. Foresters and stream ecologists agree that paving next to a creek is bad for the environment, and bad for water quality. A handful of people want to ride their bikes on pavement. Pavement causes erosion, and the proposed greenway will destroy the riparian zone that protects the creek. Don’t let the handful bulldoze the forest, don’t let them bulldoze the will of the people of Carrboro.

  2. You don’t have to pave the forest in order enjoy a “greenway.” Look at the Al Buehler trail over at Duke University, a 5,000m crushed gravel trail around the Washington Duke Inn (it even has water fountains for dogs!). Or check out the beautiful Occconeechee Speedway trail in Hillsborough, also bike and runner/walker-friendly, whose mile-long soft-surface track encircles a magical mini-forest, with single-trail offshoots that meander along the Eno River. You’d think Chapel Hill and Carrboro could be as green as Duke or as forward-thinking as Hillsborough. Pavement is so 1970’s, people! Catch up to the now. SAVE, don’t pave.

  3. As a member of the Carrboro Greenways Commission I would like to point out that the Greenways Commission has not approved the route for the greenway to proceed anywhere. We have not approved anything. We also exist to advise the Board of Alderpeople on how to incorporate Greenways, both onroad and offroad, within the town of Carrboro and how to integrate these routes with other municipalities. It is also known to everyone on the Greenways Commission that this route is controversial and is the subject of a review process by the town of Carrboro that is trying to develop a process by which the public can participate more fully in the routing of this section of the greenway.

    It should also be noted that when you are involved in reporting on environmental issues in 2018 remember the context of climate change, extreme weather events, increased flooding, and the need to create communities that are resilient and adapted to these new conditions that science has indicated will be the norm from here on out. It is not just about being pristine. The idea that people do not want to pave Bolin Creek because we wish to keep these woods pristine is erroneous and incomplete. Yes, they do provide important habitat for birds and wildlife. They are an example of an “unbuilt” environment which psychologists have identified as important to human mental health to experience. But to me this is not the Bob Marshall Wilderness area, nor does it have to be to merit respect. The most important point is this is the last riparian habitat left in Carrboro and is in need of restoration, and riparian habitat is identified as the only characteristic that preserves water quality and mitigates flood waters. If riparian habitat is removed along the creek to create a paved surface next to the creek stream velocity and energy of flood waters will be increased in the stream. This will lead to increased soil erosion and a decrease in water quality in a stream that is already listed as a 303d impaired stream. This increase in flood water energy could lead to increased property damage downstream. It is also not an accepted practice in stream restoration ecology to pave next to a creek to try and control soil erosion and improve water quality. To state that paving is something that will benefit the creek is only to adopt a anti-science, non-evidence based approach to stream ecology management. We need to use facts to manage how we build and engineer our green infrastructure in North Carolina.

    Access is an issue that needs to be addressed and I have stated on a number of occasions to the Board of Alderpeople at town meetings that there exists a path along Tripp Farm Road that leads to a bridge built by UNC across Bolin Creek that can provide access to this natural area. The path enters the stream from Tripp Farm and already possesses a smooth graveled surface and grade that can serve as a base for creating the required path. This isn’t about trying to be exclusive, this is about trying to make sure natural resources are responsibly managed using established evidence-based Best Practices and not emotion.

    In addition there have been a number of routes identified, including the route that is described above, that would be more effective at providing greater mobility to people who live in Carrboro to reach a regional network of bike paths that Friends of Bolin Creek Supports. It should also be noted that with the creation of the bike route and bridge across Bolin Creek it is shorter to ride your bike from the center of Carrboro along Greensboro, to Pathway via Parkview Ave., to Cobblestone, into Claremont South and then access the bridge across Bolin Creek to enter into the school property at the High School. This is a pathway that has already been built and will not cost us a dime more in taxpayer money. It achieves the objective of tying in neighborhoods in a way that allows people to avoid extremely busy roads.

    In the end, the final analysis, what we have to decide also is this. Do natural ecosystems have the right to exist independent of the value that we as humans assign to them? It is also important to remember that the biggest threat to Bolin Creek is the continuing development of the watershed and the increase of impervious surface area in town. Please discuss amongst yourselves over craft beer or coffee.

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