How Poor Planning Led to the Collision of Two Valuable Sports Facilities: The Story of Chapel Hill High’s Cross Country Team and Course

Tiger Mascot, Chapel Hill High School

Tiger Mascot,
Chapel Hill High School

Damage to Long-Standing Course
A wonderful championship cross-country course has been lovingly tended for years, but now that course, used by our championship Chapel Hill High School team, has seen significant damage from a “paved multi-use” roadway cutting through it. Many of us agreed to a compromise for Carrboro to plan and build a multi-use route from Claremont north of Homestead Road, under the bridge and over Bolin Creek and then east toward the high school and on to Seawell School Road.


Little Warning about Changed Plan
What almost no one knew until a few weeks before construction was to begin was the route would intersect with the high school’s cross-country course three times and rouse the consternation of team members, parents and coaches. The initial compromise called for one crossing.

Award-Winning Cross-Country Team

The Chapel Hill School Cross Country team is an award-winning team. In spring 2015, the girls’ team won the 3A state championship. In fall 2015, the boys’ cross-country team took second place in the 3A state championship in 2015.

In 2016, the girls’ indoor track team won the 3A state championship. The girls’ outdoor track team has also won 3A regionals, along with the 3A state championship. The boys have taken third in the 3A regionals

This fall, the cross-country team has begun a new season. They are “working around” the construction, including earth movers and large amounts of mud.

Questions Abound

But the question remains: How did this happen? Why so little consultation with all parties? Why so little notice given to the public? We still don’t have these answers.

Public Protest

Last spring, Carrboro Board of Aldermen meetings were packed with people upset about how the paved bikeway would collide with the cross-country team’s natural surface running trail. Runners explained what the experience of running on a woodland course has meant to them.

Most town project require significant public involvement and advance notice. The planning staff was quick to point to several workshops held in 2009, months before a final choice of a route was identified and approved.

It is true once the Board of Aldermen gave its approval for a route connecting Claremont to Chapel Hill High School in 2010, town staff did bring a couple of options to the Greenways Commission. One schematic drawing offered by the staff at one Greenways meeting showed several route options near Bolin Creek. The Greenways Commission endorsed a route that stayed away from the creek. The diagram map showed the route heading south from the high school, far south of the cross-country course.

The final route, now under construction and which went through the school property, was not shared until six years later – only one week before construction was to begin. Friends of Bolin Creek has been able to find no record of any public consultation, except for one public outreach meeting held at the high school. Only three people attended that meeting.

Why No Compromise?

Was there an opportunity for a last-minute compromise? We thought so for a few weeks. An alternate route could have reduced damage to the integrity of the cross-country course. Four lawyers supported Friends of Bolin Creek efforts by offering to work pro bono to find and implement a compromise route. At a late June 2016 meeting, the Board of Aldermen agreed to try this. Within a few weeks, however, it became clear the staff cited difficulties with the compromise route, citing increased construction costs due to change orders.

Rejected Alternate Route

Below is the alternate route proposed at the May 3rd, 2016 Board of Aldermen meeting. It would have removed fewer trees, meant less disturbance of Bolin Forest, and certainly less construction cost. It would have been safer and meant less conflict between runners and bikers.

Alternate Route

Alternate Route

Why the Controversy?

In short, the recent controversy erupted because:

  • Adequate communications with stakeholders failed to happen. Key information was not shared about the conflict between the cross-country facility and the new multi-use trail. Multiple parties were caught by surprise, including the Board of Aldermen, the town’s Greenways Commission, its Transportation Advisory Board, Friends of Bolin Creek, the high-school principal and the cross-country team, along with coaches and parents.
  • Despite a project concept being approved in 2010, subsequent details of the route were not shared with key stakeholders between the years 2010 and 2016 and then only after the construction contract had been signed.
  • Although the Greenways Commission determined the “green route” was preferable for the Homestead Road and Bolin Creek crossing, pretty much that was the end of consultation about that route.
  • Board of Aldermen members delegated review of plans to town staff and the Greenways Commission, whose members say they don’t recall seeing any final project map that showed any route through school property. The Greenways Commission meets only four times a year.
  • Following strong negative public reaction, the staff did produce a list of outreach efforts they’d undertaken, but still as the project lead, the Town of Carrboro did not alert stakeholders, including Board of Aldermen, Greenway Commission members, the public, the runners and coaches and all others affected by the conflict.
  • Finally, the engineering firm hired sent only one e-mail to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro School System concerning the final route and when the firm received no reply assumed assent rather than sending another e-mail in case the first one was lost or overlooked.

This map below shows the conflict of  the 1B route intersecting with the High School Cross Country course. The team members and coaches are making the best of the present situation.

1B route intersecting with cross country cours

Consider This


Consider the incredible history of this remarkable cross-country championship team and the running times of cross-country runners going back to the 1980’s, is listed just outside the entrance to the track.

The conflict between two valuable sports facilities was avoidable.  Better communications with the affected parties would have avoided the unnecessary damage to the course and the spirit of this outstanding cross-country team.

This news story describes the controversy. See Video here.

As a postscript to this story, Carrboro Public Works staff worked diligently with Friends of Bolin Creek to come up with a Q & A fact sheet for whom to contact if there are issues during the construction with sediment control. You can print our a copy from this file:  sedimentation-and-erosin-control-fact-sheet-docx