Carolina North Utility Work and Running Trails

After a special meeting of the Carolina North trails and Advisory Committee held on November 21st, 2011, trail runners on UNC’s Carolina North have reason to be optimistic about the future of Pumpkin Loop. The University had previously announced its intention to close sections of this favorite woodland running trail. Many citizens had expressed the desire to maintain the non-paved path experience in a wooded, shaded and safe setting and lamented its closing.  Safety issues were highlighted as well, given the reality that bike commuters and recreational users will all be dumped onto a single path.  Stay tuned for the final decisions.

The two most interesting conclusions that emerged from this discussion:

  • After Chapel Hill and Carroboro citizens, some Trailhead members, and avid runners made a case for not closing key sections of the Pumpkin Loop, Chair Gordon Merklein described the following options: (1) keep the Pumpkin Loop open as is; (2) convert Pumpkin Loop to a narrower double-track trail, or (3) least preferred, provide a dual surface on the Duct Bank Greenway. The latter was the original UNC proposal of closing the trails and reforestation. UNC will look into whether putting a non-paved path beside the paved Duct Bank trail is possible.

  • UNC Director of Planning, Bruce Runberg announced that UNC will schedule two additional public meetings, one in January and one in June each year, three months respectively before each Carolina North report to the Chapel Hill Town Council. The public can make comments to UNC concerning any topic to do with Carolina North.  It is assumed that UNC Facilities will host these meetings.

It is refreshing and impressive that UNC will make this opportunity available to citizens. For the past two years, Neighbors for Responsible Growth and others have petitioned the Chapel Hill Town Council to follow through with a way for citizens to give input on detailed plans as they come along.  See June 2009 resolution that directed the development of a plan for the future implementation of the Carolina North Development Agreement. (2009-06-22/R-13)

The reason for the proposed UNC trail changes stem… from requirements in the Carolina North Development Agreement signed in June 2009. It appears UNC intended to close trail sections to compensate for tree canopy lost to the construction of the major duct bank of utilities already under construction. The Agreement also requires a paved “greenway” to be installed on top of the duct bank. Many at the meeting were unhappy with both proposals, but were pleased that Chair Gordon Merklein provided the special meeting to hear concerns about the utility construction and changes to adjacent running trails.

Other information emerged at the meeting. UNC will soon hire a consultant to design the “greenway.” This engineering firm and UNC’s landscape consultant will coordinate with three groups: Campus Bicycle-Pedestrian group, the Chapel Hill Greenways commission and the Carolina North Trails & Forest Advisory Committee. UNC is uncertain that a soft surface trail can be co-located with the paved trail, although much discussion centered around this for safety reasons and also that an informal path would most likely result if no surface was provided.

Regarding the duct bank “greenway” called for in the Carolina North Development Agreement, some meeting participants are convinced a non-paved surface would suffice admirably as a transit connection, as well as a running path. Although UNC did not recommend any change to the paved surface, meeting participants were cheered that UNC will make efforts to see the Pumpkin Loop sections are kept open in some fashion.

The utility installation will clear 40 foot wide of woods running the length of the main acreage encompassed by Carolina North. The utility duct bank will serve electricity and internet to existing buildings south of Estes Drive, as well as new buildings on Carolina North. The new UNC campus will ultimately rival the current downtown campus in size. The duct bank, in addition, will contain a gas line pipe that will capture methane gases from the Orange County landfill. While a 40-foot-wide corridor has been cleared, UNC said they plan to revegetate all but the 10 feet for the greenway.

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