San Antonio group visits local greenway

by Tom Joyce Mount Airy News

First it was statewide attention, and now the Ararat River Restoration Project has drawn interest from San Antonio, Texas.

"I think we broke the record for distance," Mount Airy Public Services Director Jeff Boyles said of a recent visit by a representatives from the Lone Star State to the restored stream and new greenway. They were here to learn how similar waterway improvements might be employed in their community.

The visit occurred as a result of a conference on stream restoration held in Raleigh earlier this month. Those attending the conference included individuals who had assisted with the project in Mount Airy, including personnel of Baker Engineering in Cary and others involved.

A similar effort is sought in San Antonio as that undertaken here, where the Ararat River project not only reversed years of streambank erosion but has allowed recreational amenities including the greenway to be established.

Since the San Antonio representatives are exploring similar natural stream restoration for their community, they decided to visit Mount Airy once the Raleigh conference ended after learning of the Ararat River effort there.

"We went to lunch with them, and we talked about the project and how it worked and how we were able to leverage money to get more benefits from it," Boyles said. "And then we took them down to the river to show them different things that had been done."

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; and development of an environmental park near Mount Airy Middle and B.H. Tharrington Primary schools.

Earlier, on Nov. 3, Mount Airy hosted a regional seminar centered on the Ararat River restoration, to which officials from an 11-county area were invited. It was co-sponsored by the N.C. Department of Commerce and Pilot View Resource Conservation and Development.

The seminar focused on the design of the local project and how it included not only preventing erosion and pollution along the river, but the incorporation of a successful environmental greenway. One key aspect of the regional meeting concerned how economic and quality-of-life benefits resulting can be practiced elsewhere.

Other recent Ararat River visitors have included officials from Southport on North Carolina's coast, including the mayor of that town.

Boyles said such widespread interest suggests that Mount Airy is on the "leading edge" of river restoration, especially coming from a place as large as San Antonio which has a famous river project of its own. The San Antonio River Walk is a public park open 365 days a year, lined with individual businesses including restaurants, hotels and various attractions.

"I think it's something that the whole community can take pride in," Boyles said of the interest shown by that city in the Mount Airy project.

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

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