We came across a brand new website earlier this week — a website so new, it’s not quite finished. It’s called “Bolin Forest Climate Action,” and appears to be created by the Friends of Bolin Creek, the anti-greenway organization that has stymied Carrboro’s plans to add a 10-foot-wide path along the existing sewage easement along Bolin Creek for over 14 years.

The language that is currently on the website appears to be under development — half of it is still ipsum lorem — but what’s there paints an incomplete and factually inaccurate picture.

The Forest and The Trees

As Bill McKibben observed in his excellent recent essay in Mother Jones on why he changed his mind on NIMBYism, environmentalism has for too long been a movement focused on saying no. Early environmentalists like John Muir and Rachel Carson fought large corporations, from chemical companies to logging interests, who gave little heed to ecological concerns and operated with very little oversight. In these narratives, a small group of individuals fought powerful companies against impossible odds, making their victories to stop something from happening all the more powerful.

But since the 1970s, we’ve learned a lot more about environmental science, which has underscored how complex the decisions before us can be. Our actions to preserve trees in one area can lead to sprawling development elsewhere and increased carbon emissions overall. Blocking power lines that cut through forests to protect trees can limit the reach of clean solar and wind power, increasing reliance on dirty coal and gas.

Melissa McCullough pointed out the differences between the traditional environmentalism of prior decades and the environmental problems we face today, in her opinion piece a few weeks ago:

If you grew up in the 1960s and 70s, this linkage may seem counterintuitive. We remember the early days of the environmental movement, when problems were visibly obvious — smog, water pollution, the Cuyahoga River catching fire — and solutions were equally so. We worked hard to pass the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts to make our communities healthier. (You can see the immediate effectiveness of these strategies by looking at emission trends.)

But the 70s and the era of battling highly visible problems with straightforward solutions like regulating auto emissions and banning DDT are long gone. As the IPCC report noted, “There is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all….The choices and actions implemented in this decade will have impacts now and for thousands of years.”

How will a greenway help? A safe and protected greenway on our existing cleared sewage easement will help our local school bus crisis and idling car lines outside middle schools. It will help our community’s health and well-being. It will make it possible to transform car trips into walking and biking trips.  It will protect wildlife and streams through creating a natural buffer zone that provide opportunities for protecting plant and animal species. And it will allow households living along and near the corridor to reduce their carbon footprint by using their cars less often.

There are hundreds of greenways across the country, including successful ones in Chapel Hill along Bolin Creek, in Hillsborough, in Durham and Raleigh and Charlotte and Asheville and up and down the East Coast. Many of them are alongside creeks.

The American Planning Association, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the Environmental Protection Agency have all championed greenways as vehicles for economic development, protecting people and property from flood damage, and stormwater management, respectively. Greenways help improve air and water quality, and prevent soil erosion. Greenways have been shown to improve the economic health of communities, and protect vital natural resources.

Bolin Creek Climate Action homepage as of May 4, 2023

Who created Bolin Forest Climate Action? We have some clues.

Like so many single-issue activist websites, there are no actual names attached to the Bolin Forest Climate Action website, and the linked petition was set up anonymously as well — but we’re fairly certain it’s been set up by the same group of people who have been trying to block the Bolin Creek Greenway in Carrboro for nearly 15 years. 

(How we know: The Bolin Creek Climate Action website uses pictures from one of Friends of Bolin Creek’s board members, and repeats languages that the board has recently used on Facebook and NextDoor. Paragraphs of text are copied directly from a website authored by Julie McClintock, founder of CHALT and Friends of Bolin Creek. It also shares a petition link with an Instagram account we know was created by FOBC members. Its fact section repeats the many inaccuracies which we have spent the past several months compiling and correcting.) 

The benefits of greenways — climate, kids, stream restoration

That’s unfortunate, because in Carrboro, the Bolin Creek Greenway could open up safe, convenient access from Carrboro to numerous destinations — to schools like Seawell Elementary, Smith Middle, and Chapel Hill High School, to parks like Umstead Park, and to other destinations that are difficult to access by bicycle and foot.  

It will help provide protected, safe and equitable biking and walking routes for all communities in Carrboro, including residents of The Landings at Winmore, Bolinwood Condominiums and Estes Park Apartments, the Oakwood complex, and the Craig-Gomains housing complex.

It also leverages Chapel Hill’s extensive investment in its own sections of greenway along Bolin Creek. It would provide an opportunity to replace the short, 1-3 mile car trips that pollute our air with clean, safe, and fun bicycle rides, and provide more options for children to get places and visit friends on their own without the parent chauffeur.

Carrboro residents support the plan. Access to greenways for transportation is a top priority. And they always have. The Town’s 2009 report stated that “there is considerable community support for continuing with greenway trail development as well as the proposed alignment” — the same alignment being evaluated today.

Yesterday, we addressed the false claims in the petition linked on the website. So we won’t repeat ourselves here. It is important to emphasize that the greenway will have a minimal impact on the forest canopy. The greenway is located atop a 30-foot wide OWASA sewer easement. It is kept clear so OWASA’s trucks can routinely roll over and perform maintenance, and to stop tree roots from infiltrating poop-filled pipes. 

The resulting land is hard-packed, causing significant erosion and sedimentation and contributing to the degradation of the creek. A paved greenway would improve the ecosystem. Greenways can be designed to provide habitat for birds and other wildlife. It can improve water quality — green space created by these natural corridors helps to mitigate storm-water runoff and encourage water table recharge. Greenways can also serve as natural floodplains. By restoring developed floodplains to their natural state, many riverside communities are preventing potential flood damage. (Greenways don’t prevent flooding, but can help mitigate their damage depending on how they’re constructed.)

The alternatives that the no-greenway contingent propose are fantastically unrealistic and will only result in more delay. Their “bike alternatives” are dangerous for kids and adults. 

Support the Bolin Creek Greenway in Carrboro

We hope you’ll join us in supporting the Bolin Creek Greenway extension by signing up for the Carrboro Linear Parks Project mailing list and writing to Town Council with why you support the greenway. They can be reached at [email protected].

If you see the petition or website circulate, let us know — and feel free to share this blog post with your neighbors or community group. By working together, we can create five miles of safe, protected, and accessible trails for walkers and rollers of all ages and of all mobility levels — and help keep Bolin Forest (and the wildlife) protected from the many humans who currently use the trail.

Melody Kramer contributed to this post.

In the last municipal election cycle, we helped increase turnout by over 20 percent. We're all volunteers who care deeply about Chapel Hill and Carrboro, and we're working to make Chapel Hill and Carrboro more vibrant, accessible, fun, and sustainable.  Please consider a small donation to help us keep our digital lights on, host events, and hire students to do data deep-dives.

Geoff Green, AICP lives in Chapel Hill. In his day job he's a practicing urban planner; in his spare time he rides his electric bike around town and advocates for improved facilities so that everyone can...