Ararat River project drawing interest

by Tom Joyce, Mount Airy News, 10/21/2010

It’s been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and a river-restoration/recreation project in Mount Airy is attracting both high praise — and interest — from other communities around the state.

Not only have the recent Ararat River improvements and related amenities such as a new greenway brought visitors from elsewhere seeking to do the same thing, Mount Airy will host a regional meeting on the subject in early November.

The seminar aimed at helping communities learn how to grow their economies through greenway and resource development is scheduled on Nov. 3.

Officials in an 11-county area have been invited to the gathering that is co-sponsored by the N.C. Department of Commerce and Pilot View Resource Conservation and Development, a Winston-Salem agency that helped fund the Ararat River project.

Their seminar will focus on the design of the local project and how it included not only preventing erosion and pollution along the waterway, but the incorporation of a successful environmental greenway. The finished product has brought numerous economic and quality-of-life benefits to the community, which can be accomplished elsewhere, according to an official of Pilot View Resource Conservation and Development.

“The main thing we’re trying to do is offer the opportunity for other counties, cities, towns and communities to come to Mount Airy that day and look at what has been accomplished with the Ararat River project,” Executive Director Charles Anderson said of the seminar.

It is scheduled from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at H.B. Rowe Environmental Park, one of the new facilities created through the project which will function as an environmental learning tool for students. Attendance is expected to be brisk from the 11-county area, whose representatives have been warned that limited seating available will be assigned on a first-come, first-served basis.

The event will give participants the chance to see the improvements firsthand while also generating ideas.

Organizers of the seminar hope it also will spark further meetings between state and private agency representatives and officials of participating communities to explore similar projects there, taking into account their specific situations and available resources.

“We want to sit down as a partner and help them,” Anderson added Wednesday.

Economic Potential

The Pilot View spokesman said there is widespread interest among other communities in what has been done along the Ararat River because of its link to economic benefits. The motivation for the project was improving water quality, which has improved the fish habitat and increased use of the river for kayaking, tubing and other recreational opportunities in addition to the greenway — which represent “a human resource” factor, he said.

“And all that turns into an economic project as well that in time will bring more dollars into the community, which will help the city tax base,” Anderson said. A study by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission shows that communities can receive an average return of $1.6 million from their investments in developing trout-fishing areas alone.

The city of Mount Airy allocated $1 million toward the Ararat River Restoration Project that cost about $4 million in all. Along with The Resource Institute Inc. and Pilot View Resource Conservation and Development, both located in Winston-Salem, funds were provided for the work by the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund, the state Parks and Recreation Trust Fund and the N.C. Division of Water Resources.

It included the creation of the 2.5-mile riverfront greenway trail that is heavily used; renovations to Riverside Park, including construction of a greenway trail head, paved parking area, new entry sign, hillside nature trails and canoe launch; and development of the environmental park near Mount Airy Middle and B.H. Tharrington Primary schools.

Visit From Coast

In addition to the upcoming seminar, Mount Airy officials have been receiving inquiries about the Ararat River improvements from other communities, including on North Carolina’s coast.

“We had a group from Southport here last Wednesday, the 13th,” said Jeff Boyles, the city’s public services director, who has devoted much time to the project in recent years. Included among the visitors was the mayor of that resort town.

“And they wanted to tour our facility and to get ideas for how they could do something similar,” Boyles said.

He added that such interest is not unexpected since various funding agencies, the project designer and construction contractor are all hailing the Ararat River effort as their best. That is the case for Pilot View Resource Conservation and Development in particular.

“Because it is their premier project, one they’re most proud of and they’re anxious to show it off,” the public services director said.

Baker Engineering, a Cary firm that designed the project, also won a major award for engineering excellence this year for its work in Mount Airy, from the American Council of Engineering Companies of North Carolina.

The project additionally is a feather in the cap of Mount Airy itself.

“It’s something we’re proud of,” Boyles said. “I’m proud to have been part of making this wonderful natural resource accessible to the public. I would say it’s been the highlight of my career.”

Contact Tom Joyce at tjoyce@mtairynews.com or at 719-1924.