/ Community Engagement, Trails and Recreation,

The Blueway Plan for the French Broad River

You may have heard of greenways before, but have you heard of a blueway?

Similar to a greenway, a blueway focuses on protecting a natural resource all while making it more accessible for the community to enjoy. But instead of protecting forests and creating paths, as a greenway does, it concentrates on waterways. This blueway plan, in particular, is focused on an undeniable natural asset in our region: The French Broad River.

The plan involves many calls to action, including new and improved mapping and online resources, wayfinding signs along the river, and design recommendations for improving water quality, such as riverbank stabilization and restoration.

This plan was brought into fruition by Conserving Carolina in collaboration with Jennings Environmental, and was funded by the Transylvania County Tourism Development Authority (TDA).

At the Blueway Celebration held out at Headwaters Outfitters on April 28th, all of the partners involved in the culmination of this plan came together with the community to celebrate it’s completion and talk about the future execution of the plan.

Torry Nergart, Conserving Carolina’s conservation easement manager, describes the plan as, “a menu… there’s short, medium, and long-term goals to help improve the river as funding, energy, and opportunities become available.”

Greg Jennings of Jennings Environmental spoke about their process behind making the plan. Jennings cited that, “What we realized in talking to the local community, as well as with people who have done blueways in other parts of the country, is that protecting the resource is job one… taking care of it, keeping it available, accessible, and safe. The plan focuses on these aspects.”

Nergart explained why Conserving Carolina is spearheading this plan, based on the organization’s history with similar projects.

“For our part, Conserving Carolina has demonstrated that we can really take on big projects, like putting a wetland back together on the French Broad River. We can work with multiple funding sources, non-profit partners, engineers, and volunteers to really pull off amazing stuff.”

He cites a specific project that has had exceptional success, which was also part of a collaboration with Jennings Environmental. “At the Mouth of Mud Creek… we put all of those wetlands back together, put a little bit of public access into it, and made it part of the French Broad Paddle Trail.” Nergart also mentioned that there are multiple other restoration projects Conserving Carolina has in the works along the river, making the organization a strong partner in this community undertaking.

Restoration isn’t the only goal, however. Creating accessibility for all to enjoy the river is a priority as well. Aaron Baker of TDA emphasizes that the river is not yet a blueway. To make it a blueway means to create, “…lots of access points, the right amenities at those access points, signage that makes it easier to meander through, and a mapping system.”

Check out our newly launched story-map about all of our restoration projects along the French Broad River!

Carolina Memorial Sanctuary, pictured here, is one of the multiple natural floodplains Conserving Carolina has worked to restore.

Looking to join in on this community initiative? Nergart points to volunteering your time as the best way to get involved. And the greatest part is that you can decide how to donate your time, based on your interests. He emphasizes, “We need people to do a lot of different things…you can work in the community, making connections, working with landowners. We need people to advocate for the river. And we need people to be on the river.”

To get involved with the Blueway Plan, check out Conserving Carolina’s calendar to join an upcoming Volunteer Information Session. Be sure to mention that you’re interested in joining the French Broad River Stewards, and feel free to specify what part of the plan you’d like to work on.

See the full Blueway Plan here.

 Author Allison Houtz is serving as an AmeriCorps Project Conserve Communications and Education Associate with Conserving Carolina. 

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