Bob McPherson wasn’t sporting a coonskin cap or toting a musket, but filling a trailblazer role nonetheless Tuesday morning on Mount Airy’s new greenway connector while instead riding a bicycle and wearing a helmet.
McPherson, a Mount Airy resident and longtime user of the Emily B. Taylor Greenway, was doing something unusual concerning its normal route. Rather than having to stop at that trail’s familiar ending point at Worth Street and turn around, McPherson was able to keep on pedaling south, thanks to the 2.2-mile connector.
“This is the first time I’ve been on it,” McPherson said after stopping his bike briefly on an attractive wooden bridge/catwalk built to span Lovills Creek alongside U.S. 52 as part of the route for the connector. It now links the Taylor and Ararat River Greenway on the opposite end of town.
“It’s nice,” McPherson said of the addition.
On a hot day when he was being exposed to direct sunlight, the local cyclist especially was looking forward to reaching the Ararat River Greenway that meanders through a forested area with lots of shade.
With the connector route, Mount Airy’s greenway system extends from Veterans Memorial Park on West Lebanon Street south to Worth Street along Lovills Creek. It extends from that location and crosses U.S. 52 to loop around the Big Lots shopping center to the point where the creek and the Ararat River converge.
The route heads eastward from that spot along the Ararat to that greenway’s former end near B.H. Tharrington Primary School and continues following the river’s path northerly to Riverside Park.
Large white markings have been applied to the surface of Worth Street, prompting motorists to stop at that point for the traffic light at U.S. 52 to allow Taylor greenway users to cross the street to reach the connector.
Besides McPherson, other users — including bicyclists and walkers — were enjoying the link Tuesday in the wake of its long-awaited opening to the public, which was announced Friday afternoon.
Jody Phillips, vice president of Smith-Rowe, LLC, a Mount Airy company that was awarded the contract for the greenway construction, advised that barricades had been removed to allow the connector’s use by the community. And as word of that got out, people began showing up eager to take advantage of the new facility.
Having 2.2 more miles at their disposal was a “big hit over the holiday weekend,” city Parks and Recreation Director Catrina Alexander acknowledged Tuesday.
“What a great way to kick off Parks and Recreation Month,” Alexander added regarding a national observance in July which locally also saw the reopening of a refurbished playground at Riverside Park last Friday.
The city parks official pointed out that the new connector, which is providing a continuous 10-foot-wide paved trail of nearly seven miles, is a major addition to Mount Airy’s recreational offerings.
“This greenway, now totaling just under 14 miles round trip, will encourage physical fitness opportunities for people of all ages and ability levels for generations to come.”
Only a couple of minor tasks remain for the project before it is complete, which Alexander described as “punch list”-type items that will be done over the next couple of weeks.
Alexander mentoned that a formal ceremony is planned for late summer to recognize all the partners who had a hand in the connector effort. Included is the N.C. Department of Transportation, which awarded a $2.2 million grant for the project.
“Thanks to everyone who made this project possible,” Alexander commented. “Big shout out to the (city) public works staff (specifically Lee Wright), who monitored the project on our end about every day.”
Earlier reports had indicated that the greenway connector might not be finished until late in 2016.
“Glad we could get it open in the summer (not December) so that everyone has a chance to enjoy it,” Alexander stated.
“Rules of the road”
The city parks and recreation director is using the occasion of the connector opening to remind users that all trail rules apply to the new greenway section:
• Bicyclists and pedestrians share the path;
• Cyclists should not use excessive speeds and should signal before passing;
• Pedestrians should listen for signals and stay to the right so that two-way traffic is always possible;
• All trail users are urged to contact the Mount Airy Police Department at 336-786-3535 with any concerns and be “trail watchers.”
“After all, it’s your trail,” Alexander stressed.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.