Bolin Creek Solutions

Why stop a consultant’s recommendation to spend $3 million of taxpayers’ funds to put cement next to Bolin Creek? 

This portion of Bolin Creek between Estes and Homestead is unique because it encompasses 400+ acres of assets that include a natural creek, wildflowers such as the coneflower, and wildlife such as coyotes, salamanders, heron and woodpeckers. The Adams Tract was acquired by Carrboro and the County for preservation four years ago. Next to this gorgeous forest sits the P.H. Craig tract, as yet unprotected, and finally the 300 acres of UNC property that will be protected by contract under the recently signed Development Agreement.

All together these intact woods are of immense beauty and significance, as noted by the Inventory of Significant Natural Areas of Orange County.  A scientific baseline, moreover, was established by the Eco System Enhancement Program Local Watershed Plan for Little Creek (which includes Bolin Creek).

Science is on the side of those opposed to putting paving immediately adjacent to any creek. State and local rules prevent or discourage such practices. The current sewer easement is not a good place for additional disturbance. This particular line was put in years ago and runs very close to the creek, closer than the Jordan Lake rules would allow today without an exemption. The availability of DOT money for pavement should not be used as the rationale for accepting such funds. The State can supply, instead, funds to restore and repair creek erosion. Indeed, Carrboro and Chapel Hill have recently received a grant to do restoration work along Bolin Creek due to the impairment caused by upstream development. It is possible for the Bolin Creek Valley to continue to thrive as a conservation area where anyone, especially children, can marvel at the Piliated woodpecker – but only if we make it a priority.

Bikeway connections, obviously, make sense, especially given the location of the new Carolina North campus. The UNC – Chapel Development Agreement, in fact, specifies a campus-to-campus connector bikeway.  It also specifies bike lanes to be built on both sides of Seawell School Road.  This does not rule out other possible trail locations that avoid riparian areas.

The fact that better alternatives are available for bike lanes makes the 3 million dollar proposed construction of a cement bikeway through difficult terrain not only bad for stream ecology but duplicative and a needless waste of money given existing plans.  We need to focus on solutions that conserve the forest and build more direct less expensive bike lanes.

A note about Friends of Bolin Creek.  Since 2003 we have sought to establish a preserve in the Bolin Creek Valley.  With recent developments in the conservation on the Horace Williams tract, we have reason to be optimistic that this dream can be achieved. We will seek a conservation plan that will:  (1) support erosion-free bike trails out of the riparian area, (2) ensure nature trails are not eroded, (3) work with OWASA to reduce storm-water problems, (4) promote wetlands mitigation measures in beaver area, (4) develop neighborhood homeowners’ program to reduce nitrogen going into the creek, and (5) work with Towns on the implementation of 319 restoration grant already underway.

Friends of Bolin Creek is exploring other possible trail connections outside the Consultant’s report. Join the walk on Feb 20th at 11 am meeting this Saturday at Wilson Park in Carrboro. 

More reading:



The first time I marveled at a pileated woodpecker (and what a wonder they are) was on the paved Bolin Creek Greenway. I have since marveled at one in my own neighborhood, a few feet from a paved road. Not saying I'm a big fan of more pavement, but it didn't stop the Pileated in those two cases at least.

And will disabled or elderly folks be part of the "anyone" who can access the "area where anyone can marvel"?

Pileated woodpeckers are very large birds and I have seen them in almost downtown Chapel Hill.  It is very nice to see and hear them.  I think they like the old trees on campus and there are probably some appropriate trees in this section of Bolin Creek.  But what about animals and plants that depend on water quality?  Also I know there are some studies on green zones, their spacing and the movement of wildlife.  Is there a study on the effects of the proposed greenway on wildlife, including the issue of creating pseudoconnected areas?

As someone who lives a few hundred feet from what will be Phase III of Chapel Hill's Bolin Creek Greenway (, I will be really disappointed if we miss the opportunity to create a connected, accessible network for bicycles and pedestrians. The greenways we have now are are pleasant natural spaces, and I don't think the narrow strip of pavement seriously degrades the space around the creek.More OP background on this at and

Is the use of this "narrow strip of pavement" by both pedestrians and bicyclists each attempting to get somewhere compatible?  Are both of those uses of the strip compatible with the wanderer trying to enjoy nature?Also, why do you think that the narrow strip of pavement doesn't degrade the space around the creek?  

I have never seen any evidence that the Chapel Hill portion of the Bolin Creek greenway has degraded the creek.  I've wandered the areas between MLK and Estes since the 1970s and seen lovely wildflowers and interesting birds even within the past 5 years. Obviously that area is not like it was before all the new housing developments were built,  but the greenway has ensured access to a public, open space for urban residents; provided a wonderful source of safe exercise; protected wildlife that would have otherwise been pushed out by even denser development; and provided a safe commuting route for pedestrians and bicyclists. IMHO, the town residents and the environment have benefitted from the greenway WITHOUT having to exclude anyone from enjoying those benefits.

I think you have identified one of the problems with this proposal.   A 10 foot wide cement transit corridor is not compatible with a quiet walk in the woods on a natural surface path.   This is a real 400+ acre woods as opposed to the narrow strip of trees next to the Chapel Hill Greenway.  In addition, the Bolin creek valley north of Estes Drive extension has a sewer easement very close to the creek which leaves only two choices if the pavement is put here:  1) put the pavement 5 - 30 feet from the creek in many places or 2) put the pavement on the ourside of the manholes and cut away the side of the valley taking down trees.  This construction will harm water quality which local governments have pledged to protect.  UNC has pledged to build bike lanes on Seawell School Road so there are solutions to the connectivity concern. Julie

We just don't see this one the same.  Connectivity can be achieved without degrading  one of our great outdoor spaces by joining already planned bike lanes. DOT standards will require excavation and major grading.  Paving gently is not possible.   I encourage everyone to walk this area along the creek beginning at Estes Drive extension going north. See map at   I would have much preferred a natural surface along Bolin Creek Phase 3, but we are sadly too late to change that.Julie

The OWASA easement cannot be maintained "gently" either. If there's a break in the sewer line, heavy equipment will be pulled in. If pipes go bad, heavy equipment will be pulled in. When beavers build dams that cause overflow, actions will be taken.When the reclaimed water lines were being designed and eventually laid through the Pinetum, some of these same environmental destruction concerns were raised by those neighbors. Old trees were removed, additional invasives were invited in as a result of the heavy equipment, and wildlife was disturbed. But as the OWASA consultants told us, there is no way to maintain a sewer easement "gently" over time.So balance the fact that destruction is inevitable along a sewer easement  with the known and intentional exclusion of those individuals who have mobility issues. Do we preserve one area of town for those without disability in the name of, but not the reality of, environmental protection?It's unfortunate that this discussion seems to be pitting some individuals in this community against others in the debate about environmental protection vs equal access. I think most of us want both but have weighed the options differently. I hope those reading these discussions keep that in mind. 

My short post would be -- When  I heard about the discussion of a Bolin Creek greenway I did not understand that what was being discussed was primarily a route for alternate means of transportation.  My longer post follows At some point in the discussion about creating a Bolin Creek greenway did the citizens of metropolitan Chapel Hill and Carrboro decide that the primary purpose of that greenway was for alternate transportation?  If they did I am sorry I missed the discussion.  If they did then using the riparian zone of Bolin Creek for this purpose is a very bad idea and in the long run will cost a great deal in terms of replacing the environmental services that the creek and its surroundings could provide.  I would not be surprised if there are other possible routes for this alternate transportation corridor.  I understand that the CH-C area has a very large problem with connectivity particularly for alternate means of transportation (but also for vehicle transportation).  A well thought out greenway system (with the understanding that its primary purpose was transportation) could do a great deal to encourage the use of alternate means of transportation but I am sure there are better places for it.  This section of Bolin Creek is not pristine but it is far closer to it natural state (and could be made more so) than many of the downstream sections. 

I most worry that well-intentioned folks are promoting a false dichotomy here between being good stewards of the earth and making trails more accessible for handicapped citizens and commuters.  As an ecologist, nature love, and long-time user of the Bolin Creek trails, I feel that a project that paves the trail corridor, depending upon the exact specifications, may promote more alternative transit in the form of bike commuters and would allow access to people with disabilities without heavily compromising the ecological integrity of that corridor (depending upon the final layout).  Some points below:1)      As much as I hate to say it, this corridor is not pristine.   It does have significant value as a haven for spring ephemeral wildflowers, and as a relatively large tract of forested land that can harbor better habitat for forest interior birds, snakes, and the like.  Portions of the slope areas also harbor interesting ecological communities that have been recognized by the North Carolian natural heritage program as important to preserve.  However, paving the already heavily impacted and compacted sewer easement along the creek would not impact the wildflowers, the forest interior habitat, or those natural heritage areas.  As long as the forest tree cover remains similar and only the current swath of treeless area is impacted (or maybe a little more on both sides), the animals and plants should be fine.  I know large roads can be barriers to some creatures, but 10 foot wide paths are likely not.  I’d be interested in seeing some studies that show otherwise if anyone has the references.2)       It’s an open question as to whether the paving would be detrimental or beneficial to water quality.  On the one hand, the current path is in places a 20-30 foot very muddy rutted area and any flooding that occurs washes that sediment into the creek.  At least with pavement, there would be fewer non-vegetated areas caused by the walkers and joggers and mountain bikers, thereby at least helping to resolve that issue.  Now I recognize that the flow along the paved portion during flooding would increase and cause potential issues, but again I don’t see how we can state with certainty that there would be serious degradation compared to the already unacceptable situation of 30 foot wide mudpits that wash seditment into the creek every flood event.3)      Salamanders and frogs do use the mudpits.  This is a good point, but it does seem like we can remedy this by creating small vernal pool areas on either side of the path that is constructed during construction.  Perhaps this is something we could take up with the aldermen or with the company developing the path?  4)      To promote new bike commuters, bikepaths should ideally be flat or close to flat.  Has anyone who commutes tried the Seawell School Road in the heat of the summer?  It’s pretty hilly in places and won’t exactly encourage more bike transit, IMHO.  The Bolin Creek corridor is very densely settled, hence folks could potentially ride the trail down to MLK Dr., park their bikes, and take the bus up the hill.  Or folks could bike to University Mall and to the farmer’s market there with their kids and make a lovely day of it.  I’ve already talked to at least one person that will have a much easier commute from  his home to his work and plans on using this new corridor when/if it comes open.I mean no disrespect to the wonderful folks that advocate for the Bolin Creek corridor and very much appreciate their efforts over the years.  But I do think that we have to recognize that we can pave this corridor and increase access without substantively diminishing its value for wildlife and the appreciation of said wildlife. 


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