The Link between Asheville and the French Broad
It may be hard to imagine, but Asheville wasn’t always ideal for tubing down the river with friends on a warm day. In fact, it wasn’t until the mid-1980’s when the Asheville Chamber of Commerce decided our city’s visitors needed a reason to stay longer, and the solution was river cleanup and conservation. Thus, RiverLink was born. The Founding Director, Karen Cragnolin, served RiverLink for 30 years, and is a local hero for the work she did preserving local parks, trails, the river and educating the public on their responsibility to nature. Today, RiverLink serves as an organization to educate, conserve and make it possible for locals and visitors to enjoy everything the French Broad has to offer.
RiverLink has made it possible to experience the French Broad because of the hard work of Karen Cragnolin, and in honor of her years of service, a new park will be named after her. Last year, RiverLink announced the master plan for the Karen Cragnolin Park and asked the public to offer their suggestions for the space, located on the site of the old EDACO junkyard.
According to Suzanne Moore, the Developmental Director of RiverLink, “The Park Master Plan will create a distinct park along one of the world’s oldest river systems for the recreation, education, and the promotion of health. It will be unlike any other park in the region and will include a pavilion structure that promotes the views of the river and also allow for a ‘get-down’ pathway to interact with the river.”
Once completed, visitors to the park will be able to enjoy a once highly polluted piece of land that has been restored after intensive clean-up. Not only will it be a beautiful space to enjoy a day by the river, it will also serve as a place to learn about local aquatic systems, geology and conservation.
Using Asheville’s existing parks and trails, RiverLink offers multiple educational opportunities for students, many of them free of charge. These range from lessons in water chemistry and human impact to stream anatomy and biodiversity, and they’re for students K-12. Looking for something more hands on? The French Broad RiverCamp is another great way to introduce kids to river and watershed exploration. This program is built for 3rd-8th grade students and consists of a week of hands-on environmental education, river recreation and service-learning projects. Adults can also gain valuable education through volunteer opportunities. These can be found on RiverLink’s website under the “Get Involved” tab; it’s a great way to make a difference and maybe even a friend or two!
Speaking of making a difference, at the beginning of the year, RiverLink and Friends of Woodfin Greenway & Blueway announced that they’ve joined forces to complete the Woodfin Greenway and Blueway Project. In a press release written by Moore, she states that “the project is an ambitious $18.1 million effort to construct five miles of greenway along the French Broad River and Beaverdam Creek, new river access sites, the new Silver-Line Park, expansion of Riverside Park, and creation of the in-stream wave feature for whitewater paddling and surfing enthusiasts.” Within this project, there will be over 25 miles of safe urban paths, making it ideal for a scenic hike or trail run. Yes, this is something to get excited about. Locals and visitors can expect to start enjoying the Woodfin Greenway and Blueway in 2021, and until then, you can visit their website if you’d like to donate or learn more.
Next time you’re enjoying a picnic by the water or tubing with friends, take a moment to appreciate all the effort RiverLink has put in to ensuring Asheville has beautiful spaces to share with family, friends and strangers alike.