One of our community’s most treasured places are the North Carolina Botanical Gardens, which have expanded over time to include 1,100 acres of gardens and wildlife conservation areas. Areas like the Coker Arboretum, Battle Park, Forest Theater, the Mason Farm Biological Reserve, and others are proof that we can balance conservation with access, making spaces where everyone is welcome.

For decades, Johnny Randall, who recently retired as the director of conservation programs for the Botanical Gardens, has worked tirelessly to create, maintain, and expand natural spaces in our communities. He’s also a supporter of building an accessible greenway alongside Bolin Creek in Carrboro, and recently participated in a walk alongside part of the OWASA sewer corridor that connects to Smith Middle School.

At the beginning of the walk, Randall spoke of the value of nature connected corridors, areas where animals are able to easily travel,which increases genetic diversity. He said he has worked with the Town of Chapel Hill to convert  its greenway to a native plant habitat, allowing our greenways to also serve as connection points for wildlife. He is also interested in the rehabilitation of “beat up landscapes” (his words), like many of the OWASA sewer easements.

As an example of how this might work in practice, Randall stopped at a large puddle that had developed in the middle of the OWASA easement. Puddles like this are attractive to salamanders, because they’re away from the stream, where predators, fish and crayfish, might eat their eggs.

But these puddles are vulnerable too, because OWASA trucks, mountain bikers, walkers, and other current users of the easement drive, roll, or walk through them.

A photo of creek side damage and erosion

If we build a defined trail through the easement, Randall said, we can create vernal pools away from the creek, creating a safer space for animal habitat. He then found a section of the trail where it’d be possible to create a vernal pool that would allow more animals to thrive.

Walking the OWASA easement with Randall was a reminder of the value of these natural areas, and the need to make them more accessible to all. By building a greenway along the sewer easement, we can also build support for protecting our natural environments, from creating vernal pools for salamanders to connecting our towns and counties with wildlife corridors that will help ensure that all species will continue to thrive.

Sign up for the Carrboro Linear Parks Project mailing list to get updates on building out Carrboro’s greenway network. Visit the Carrboro Linear Parks Project website for more information. There’s also a helpful FAQ with answers to many questions.

Update: We support the creekside alignment for the reasons detailed here.

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.

Martin Johnson lives in Chapel Hill. He teaches film studies courses at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is also a member of NEXT Chapel Hill-Carrboro and the Bicycle Alliance of Chapel...