Growing the greenway
Editor’s note: This is the fourth installment in a five-part series, which is focusing on the four city of Sanford bond referendums that will appear on the Sept. 10 ballot. The series will conclude Sunday, providing detailed information on the streetscape bond referendum for downtown Sanford and Jonesboro. Here part one, part two and part three here.
With nothing but a backdrop of cricket chirps and dewy grass, the Endor Iron Furnace Greenway slowly — yet surely — comes to life every dawn.
Dozens of runners lace their sneakers and pace the mile-and-a-half tract of the greenway each morning, sometimes exchanging a greeting to the strangers they see. If the city of Sanford's greenways and trails bond referendum passes on Sept. 10, the greenway will be expanded from Kiwanis Family Park to Central Carolina Hospital before snaking its way back toward downtown Sanford.
The bond referendum is one of four city referendums, totaling $14.5 million, that will be decided during the municipal primary in less than six weeks.
The current greenway extends from the Kiwanis Family Park on Carbonton Road along Big Buffalo Creek before crossing Spring Lane and ending near Douglas Drive. With the bond referendum funds, the city would extend the greenway from Kiwanis Family Park, located on Wicker Street, to Central Carolina Hospital, then continue the greenway on Wicker and Carthage streets to downtown Sanford, past old City Hall along Little Buffalo Creek, and ending at the Sanford Municipal Center, located at 224 E. Weatherspoon St., according to Bob Bridwell, Sanford-Lee County planning director.
"The greenway, a pretty good portion of that work is done as well," Bridwell said. "... As much as you can get done without actually going out there to do the construction."
Bridwell calls the portion of the greenway near the hospital "the medical mile," and it would connect different populations to Sanford's largest medical facility. The ultimate goal, he said, is for the greenway to loop through the entire county, more than 28 miles, meeting at the Endor Iron Furnace near Cumnock.
For the trail to come back from the hospital toward downtown Sanford, it would be a combination of sidewalks and bicycle lanes, according to Downtown Sanford Inc. Executive Director David Montgomery.
"It's a greenway in an urban area," he said. "Connectivity is a big factor. We try to connect these major facilities."
The city received a federal grant — more than $520,000 — to fund the construction of the greenway in 2006. With the city's contribution of approximately $173,000 and $500,000 in additional federal funds from the stimulus package, construction on the current mile and a half of greenway began in 2009, according to City Manager Hal Hegwer.
"In the meantime, Sanford City Council appropriated funds to conduct a study about how to expand the greenway," he said.
During the construction process, the city received several complaints about the greenway from people who questioned the wisdom of undertaking a recreational project in the height of the Great Recession, said Sanford Mayor Cornelia Olive.
"We got a lot of negative of comments when we decided to build the greenway," Olive said. "And, of course, that came from the stimulus package. Now it's one of the most popular facilities. It's open to all ages, and we have people who walk for their health, walk for exercise, walk for entertainment."
Bridwell agreed and said this bond referendum gives people a choice in whether they want to expand it or not.
"When someone raises that [point] that no one is using it, my mouth drops open, because that is not my observation," Bridwell said. "I don't know when they are looking at the trail. They must be looking at it at three or four in the morning."
The greenway is especially used by civic organizations who host 5Ks and 10Ks as fundraisers on the trail, Olive said, and the Rotary Club of Sanford recently constructed a gazebo — in honor of former member Donald Buie — at the end of the greenway.
Feet on the ground
Tim Preble, the current organizer of the local running club called Brick City Running Tribe, said he believes the greenway should be expanded, but that he wants more information about how the bond money would be spent first.
"I think that if the bonds are going to be used as promised, they will be a good thing," Preble said. "I think there is a lot of money that can do a lot of good things in Sanford. But it seems to me, there is some ambiguity about where the funds are going to be used."
The club meets every Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the Riverbirch Corner shopping center, with members running anywhere from two to six miles a session. Preble said some of his major concerns are adding lighting to the greenway and increasing the distance to the trail to keep runners off the road.
"The more distance we can get in a safe environment, the better," he said. "It keeps us off the streets."
More residents would be at ease if the city clarified, in detail, how the money would be spent, he said,
"They are asking us to go ahead and use this money, and we don't know how they are going to use it," Preble said. "They are asking us for this in good faith."
Preble was present during this week's public hearing concerning the bond referendums and agrees with statements made by Hegwer that the city needs some flexibility with these projects. However, he added, there has to be concrete plans before people enter the voting booth.
"He said things may cost a little more or a little less than what they were expecting," Preble said. "I completely understand that. But there should be a clear layout on what the money is going to spent on. If we had clear guidelines, I'd be all for it."