Frequently Asked Questions

Big picture questions: Where are we now? Where is this located?

Where are we now in this process? 

Update: Town Council is now soliciting public input for Phases 3 and 4. The engagement plan is called  Which Way for the Greenway

The town is asking people to consider different approaches for the greenway. We strongly believe that the creekside alignment is the best choice for Carrboro. 

You can take the town survey and let Carrboro know why you want to see the town build out our long-planned, connected, accessible greenway network.

Why does the Creekside alignment make the most sense? 

The creekside alignment will

The creekside alignment was vetted by trail experts who have designed hundreds of trails nationally. It is the best choice for repairing the stream, connecting Carrboro, and making Bolin Creek accessible to all. 

Many of the alternative paths suggested are dangerous, have blind curves, and would not be safe for kids -- and they don't address the fact that most greenway users are on foot.

What about the other two alignments - the Upland Forest and the Bolin Connector?

The conceptual master plan assessed two alternate alignments for the greenway that did not follow the Bolin Creek sewer easement.  These helped people examine trade-offs and think about different approaches.

The “Upland Forest” and “Bolin Connector” alternates were presented to the public and studied by the greenway designers and ultimately rejected in favor of the preferred alignment along Jones and Bolin Creeks. The Upland Forest alternative would require cutting more trees down and would place the path in conflict with other trail users, like mountain bikers and trail runners. 

The Bolin Connector alternate was mostly an on-street bike boulevard that connected to existing forest service roads. This alternative was rejected by folks who showed up at the public meetings, many of whom were parents that preferred for their kids to walk and ride bikes on a beautiful creekside greenway as opposed to sharing a road with cars. 

The preferred alignment along the sewer easement was considered the most successful in terms of serving the largest number of neighborhoods.

What happened before this?

In 2009, the Carrboro Town Council approved a conceptual master plan to build out a greenway network across Carrboro. The conceptual plan outlined common goals, listed existing connections across the town, and recommended that each part of the greenway (numbered 1-4) be implemented in phases. Funding for each phase has been separate. 

Here’s a timeline of the work so far.

Right now, our greenway system is not complete -- there are bits and pieces that have been completed, like the multi-use path in Wilson Park (Phase 1A) and the path between Homestead Road and Chapel Hill High School (Phase 1B). In each phase, the Town Council solicited public input, agreed on an alignment, and then solicited engineering and design input.  This is typical for greenway development.

Where are Phases 1a and 1b?

Phases 1a, which connected Wilson Park with Estes Drive, was completed in 2013. It’s a useful connection for Estes Park Apartments to get to N. Greensboro St. without riding up the hill in traffic on Estes. But, without being connected to a greenway network, it is limited in usefulness.

Phase 1b, which is commonly called the Homestead-Chapel Hill High School Multi-Use Path, officially opened in 2018. This allows people in Lake Hogan Farms and Winmore to bike and walk to middle school and high school along a paved, safe path. 

What about Phases 3 and 4, the parts of Bolin Creek Trail that Town Council is currently discussing?

Phase 3 would go along Carolina North Forest along Bolin Creek. Phase 4 would continue along Bolin Creek through the PH Craig Tract up to the Estes Dr.

They would connect the Homestead path up to Estes Drive. Chapel Hill recently received a grant to design a connection from Bolin Creek Trail from Umstead to Estes.

The result would be a safe, protected, and accessible trail stretching from Lake Hogan Farms up in Carrboro all the way to Community Center Park in Chapel Hill - almost 5 miles of protected, offroad greenway to walk, bike, or roll.

Blue = bikes; Yellow = people on foot.

Who uses the Bolin Creek Trail in Chapel Hill?

These counts tell us that these paths are used primarily by people on foot for exercise, recreation, or to be near nature. (Bikers are in blue. Pedestrians are in yellow.)

The Bolin Creek Trail in Chapel Hill is ADA accessible so it can be used by people in wheelchairs, strollers, and using walkers. It is frequently used by birding groups. The Chapel Hill Public Library maintains three StoryWalks along public trails in Chapel Hill that help kids get exercise and practice their reading skills.

A timeline for work so far

Has the Town of Carrboro made engineering or design plans yet?

No, we're not at that stage. As you can see from the timeline (left), this summer, the Town of Carrboro plans to begin soliciting input on the conceptual alignment for Phases 3 and 4 of the Bolin Creek Greenway. This will be an opportunity for people all across Carrboro to weigh in on the conceptual alignment for the greenway. 

In each stage completed so far, design and engineering plans come after town council approval. This is typically how large civic projects work: they're approved by a Town Council after community input, and then experts bid on the ability to perform the work.

How will we pay for this?

Greenways are built through a combination of federal, state and local funds. Notably, they are never funded through HOA fees. (We know misinformation about this is circulating.)

You can read the funding strategy document prepared for the complete greenway here. It details 11 funding sources, primarily from state transportation funds. It suggests private donors could sponsor a section of the trail, in the same way that playgrounds and other recreational facilities often have contributors who "sponsor a bench." 

The existing sewer easement is already wide enough to accommodate a greenway

What doesn’t the conceptual plan have in it?

It didn’t have final engineering plans for each section because those are typically done before each stage starts. (These things take a long time!) The conceptual plan acknowledges that ecological, erosion, etc issues for each stage need to be understood better through the process of design and engineering. Actually making the greenways – the topography, the design, dealing with individual constraints – has been done in each stage as it’s been implemented. (We go into more detail about this here.) 

Environmental questions: What about trees, erosion, stormwater, wildlife?

The easement that was designed and installed along Bolin Creek in 1965 was meant to harbor a large pipe that moves poop – it was not designed to be the incredibly popular recreational trail that it has become in the last several decades, and there are some destructive consequences that result from that -- including increased runoff and sedimentation into the stream, and a surface that is functionally impervious. (That means that it’s not retaining water.)

Building a greenway along an existing sewer easement along the creek means a path can be designed with a minimum of tree clearing, while the erosion that pedestrian and OWASA truck traffic are already causing can be improved through bank restoration and keeping pedestrians in designated areas. 

The Bolin Creek Trail in Chapel Hill maintains a healthy tree canopy and cover. The same would be true for the path in Carrboro.

What about the trees? 

The proposed Carrboro’s Bolin Creek trail (10 feet wide) would follow the existing 30-foot-wide OWASA sewer easement, which doesn’t have trees in it. That’s because tree roots could hurt existing sewage pipes, and our water utility OWASA needs to occasionally access the pipes along Bolin Creek with utility vehicles. 

There is a chance that some trees may need to be removed from the corridor. But Carolina North and the Horace Williams Tract are just under 1000 acres together. It is expected that the path will take up just under 3 acres total, much of it in the existing easement.

Read the 2009 staff memo which discusses sedimentation, erosion, climate change, and the conditions of the creek. 

What about sedementation?

The proposed 10-foot-wide paved Bolin Creek Greenway would go along a 30-foot wide OWASA sewer easement. It is kept clear so OWASA’s trucks can routinely roll over and perform maintenance, and to stop tree roots from infiltrating poop-filled pipes.

But the sewage easement was not designed to be the incredibly popular recreational trail that it has become in the last several decades. The resulting land is hard-packed, causing significant erosion and sedimentation and contributing to the degradation of the creek.  Town staff wrote a memo that attributed the sedimentation to six reasons, one of which is the heavy current use of the trail.

Critically, the staff memo notes that the easement is essentially impervious. Greenway opponents often cite research about the negative impacts of locating pavement next to streams, but also carefully elide the fact that we have a 30-foot wide impervious path next to the creek right now.

A major argument for co-locating the greenway with the sewer easement is that doing so would actually shrink the total amount of impervious surface along the creek because in dedicating ten feet to pavement for trail users we can reclaim the other twenty to forty feet with seeded shoulders and other vegetation.

What about erosion and flooding along the creek's riparian zone?

A riparian zone is the vegetated lined corridor at the edge of streams, rivers, and lakes. The soil and vegetation along riparian zones are shaped by the presence of water, and they serve as important natural filters for pollutants, including sediment and nutrients that can flow into the stream. 

The riparian zone next to the Bolin Creek in Carrboro is not healthy. There is no vegetative cover in many places, and the velocity and volume of stormwater that enter the creek is large. Conditions on the easement were and continue to be bleak and well documented. 

Greenway opponents often cite research about the negative impacts of locating pavement next to streams, but also carefully elide the fact that we have a 30-foot wide impervious path next to the creek right now.  A major argument for co-locating the greenway with the sewer easement is that doing so would actually shrink the total amount of impervious surface along the creek because in dedicating ten feet to pavement for trail users we can reclaim the other twenty to forty feet with seeded shoulders and other vegetation. 

There is a large body of research that supports this.  Riparian zones – that is, the land right next to the creek – can be improved by creating a small paved path that contains humans and allows for environmental restoration of the streambank. 

We suggest reading some of the cited sources in this paper or this 2009 letter sent to Carrboro by Chuck Flink, an internationally-renowned greenway designer who has integrated environmental restoration and flooding mitigation into many of his projects around the country. 

You can also read this memo prepared by Carrboro town staff, in conjunction with OWASA, UNC and environmental consultants. 

Improving the riparian zone is good for all of us. It can improve water quality — green space created by these natural corridors helps to mitigate storm-water runoff and encourage water table recharge.

The EPA points to ecological restoration efforts in Wake Forest, where efforts to create a greenway went hand in hand with improving the riparian buffer, erosion control, and stormwater control measure. There are many examples of these efforts going hand in hand all over the United States and world. 

What about flooding?

Chapel Hill has greenways along Booker and Bolin Creeks and they were built to withstand high-velocity floods. You can read more in this assessment prepared by the town, which also notes that very little damage has been caused over the past 40 years due to floods along the creek. 

Greenways can also serve as natural floodplains. By restoring developed floodplains to their natural state, many riverside communities are preventing potential flood damage. (Greenways don’t prevent flooding, but can help mitigate their damage depending on how they’re constructed.) 

A blog post by Mecklenberg County, NC explains why flooding greenways is actually a good thing. Greenways "serve as buffers or “no build” zones. These buffers store excess stormwater runoff and protect surrounding natural areas that are able to absorb flood waters and filter stormwater pollutants. The natural vegetation in these buffer areas also helps reduce the chance of erosion and moderate water temperatures."

An assessment noted "the narrow 10-foot-width of the trail will not, in and of itself, add anymore additional impact in either velocity or volume of stormwater than what is already being experienced by the impervious social trail that laces throughout the corridor along Bolin Creek. In fact, building a defined trail corridor...and completing environmental restoration will serve to improve the overall environmental health of the corridor and reduce the impact to the stream corridor."

Runoff is not slowed down on the impacted easement, causing erosion in the creek bank. Increased sedimentation has resulted from people walking all over the creek banks.

A heron in the Bolin Creek West Conservation Tract

What about the birds and other wildlife?

 The existing 1000-acre forest is a wonderful ecosystem, and surrounded by lots of urban and suburban development, as Chuck Flink pointed out. He wrote, “the impacts are already occurring and will continue to occur in the future. The responsible thing for the Town to do is to try to accommodate human use and work to restore landscape degradation that has occurred through the decades.”

We know from eBird counts that bird variety and counts have not changed along Bolin Creek Trail, Morgan Creek Trail, and Booker Creek Trail in Chapel Hill. In fact, providing a safe, accessible paved trail allows more birders of all mobility ranges to access the trail and see various species. A 10-foot-wide paved path along 2.8 miles of an existing sewage easement in an 1000-acre piece of land will not change the width of the corridor that animals have.

 Wide forested corridor improve bird diversity. The birds and wildlife on Chapel Hill’s section of Bolin Creek have not been affected by the paved path in Chapel Hill (the eBird counts remain the same).

Greenways can also be designed with protective features for wildlife, and encourage people to stay on a path - protecting the many species that call our forest home. A paved greenway along the creek will allow more residents to experience the wildlife found along Bolin Creek -- bird watchers are frequently along the paved paths in Chapel Hill.

What about the Jordan Lake Rules?

Greenway designer Chuck Flink, who has designed over 250 greenways, addressed this in a 2009 letter to then-Mayor Mark Chilton: "We designed, permitted, and helped the Town of Cary develop the first North Carolina greenway project where these rules were aligned. The route and alignment for the Bolin Creek Greenway may have some elements developed within a portion of the 50-foot buffer, but we would certainly encourage the Town to move as much of the trail as possible outside the buffer. Also, the NCDENR buffer rules do allow trail development within the 50-foot-buffer and trails can also cross these buffers. As far as the "no practical alternatives", we and the Town of Carrboro have been working with project stakeholder UNC, landowners of the Carolina North Forest property. UNC property comprises a large majority of the Bolin Creek Greenway project corridor....UNC representatives favored utilizing OWASA sewer easements for multi-use trail development due to the existing recreational interest and their previously disturbed conditions. UNC also favored using the sewer easement along the creek for its restorative prospects, due to the existing surface condition of the corridor."

Sewer pipe carry wastewater from Bolin Forest neighborhood across Bolin Creek, just as nature intended

Is Bolin Creek is a pristine natural wonder?

Bolin Creek has been impacted by decades of human activity. In many places, there is no vegetative buffer between the area that is heavily used and the creek itself, primarily due to extensive trail braiding, so runoff flows unfiltered into the creek.  There are sewer manholes next to the creek, sewer pipes that carry wastewater across the creek, and the Bolin Forest HOA has built several play structures right up to the creek’s edge.The trail along the creek is severely braided in some areas where trail users are avoiding puddles by going around them, widening the trail and encroaching further into the forest. 

What about OWASA?

OWASA trucks go on the existing Bolin Creek Trail in Chapel Hill and the Booker Creek Trail in Chapel Hill to examine their pipes. The foundation of the Carrboro trail would be no different. Greenway designers are well used to working within difficult terrain, as they have in both Chapel Hill and Hillsborough.

There is a portion of the sewer line near Pathway Drive which is slated for replacement in fiscal year 2026 (and may be pushed well beyond that, as frequently happens), but if and when a greenway is built, OWASA would coordinate with the towns, as they do with every other OWASA project across Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

What are the climate implications of paving the greenway?

About 27% of greenhouse gas generated in the US comes from transportation, and 52% of all trips in the US are less than three miles. One important way we can fight the climate crisis at the local level is by creating opportunities for our residents to reduce their reliance on cars and building a culture of active transportation that scales with our increasingly dense town. A greenway network in Carrboro (that will connect to a greenway network in Chapel Hill) will take cars off the road. 

The Bolin Creek Greenway in Chapel Hill used both federal and local bond funds and does not have ten-foot buffers on both sides of the path

What about the 10-foot-wide gravel buffer required by NCDOT on both sides?

Most greenways in North Carolina get built with a mix of federal and local funds, including bonds. Federal guidelines typically require a paved path to be ten-feet wide, but there is no requirement for ten-foot gravel buffers on both sides. Good engineering practice is to secure the paved surface with two-foot constructed shoulders. The existing sewer easement along Bolin Creek in Carrboro is already wider than that. The Bolin Creek Greenway in Chapel Hill used both federal and local bond funds and does not have ten-foot buffers on both sides of the path.

Questions about biking, walking and community

Is the Seawell School bike route an alternative?

First, greenways serve more than just bikers - the primary users of Chapel Hill's Bolin Creek Trail are pedestrians. Focusing entirely on bikers and on a path that goes along existing roads may help road cyclists is limiting -- a greenway serves many more people.

Second, the Seawell School road would either go along the existing road - which has blind curves - or involve cutting down a significant number of trees.  UNC owns the Carolina North Forest and has said that they prefer the Bolin Creekside alignment because fewer trees would need to be removed for a path.

The Seawell School Road path is also not equitable in the same way. It would help the existing neighborhoods of northern Carrboro, but not anyone who lives along Greensboro or along Estes. There are no plans to connect Estes Drive with this, so it would remain unconnected and unsafe for kids in neighborhoods along Greensboro or on Estes south of Sewell School Road to bike to Chapel Hill High School.

We would not let our kids ride it. 

Walking along an accessible, safe paved trail makes it easy for people of all ages and all mobility levels to experience Bolin Creek. Greenways are beneficial for many reasons - and one of them is that many people prefer not sharing the road with cars.

Morgan Creek Greenway in Chapel Hill will soon connect to Carrboro

What about the trail runners and mountain bikers?

The 1000 acres of Carolina North Forest adjacent to the trail will not change -- there are dozens of trails for mountain bikers and off-road runners that will remain exactly as they are today.

Is Bolin Creek Trail in Carrboro currently accessible to strollers or wheelchair users?

Currently, people who use wheelchairs and strollers and walkers can easily access greenways in Chapel Hill, Hillsborough, Durham, Raleigh, Charlotte and Cary — but they can’t do so along Bolin Creek in Carrboro.

Bolin Creek is currently inaccessible to residents pushing strollers, residents that use wheelchairs, elderly residents who have become less surefooted, and residents that have a vision impairment or other limiting circumstances.

Approximately 1 in 9 American Adults have a mobility disability. As our community ages, many people will find themselves relying on a scooter, cane, or walker to get around. Already, we’re hearing from people who cannot enjoy the beauty of Bolin Creek in Carrboro because the ground is rutted and filled with roots and holes. And everyone in Carrboro of all ability levels should have safe, protected access to trails that help them get into nature, see birds, and recreate. 

Carrboro residents overwhelming value ease of walking and availability of greenways

How does the Bolin Creek Trail in Carrboro fit into the town's goals? 

There are multiple sources that indicate the culture of Carrboro is one that embraces projects that produce outcomes resulting in greater equity and climate resilience. The town’s recently adopted Comprehensive Plan calls for just that, and a connected greenway network that takes cars off the road and opens up natural areas for more residents delivers both of those outcomes. Additionally, the town’s biennial community survey showed an enormous interest in greenways

Part of the proposed design for the greenway

Where will people park?

The master greenway planning document recommends Wilson Park (which already exists and has 100 spots) and working with the high school to allow parking on weekends.  There is no mention of building parking facilities in neighborhoods. Most people who access the trail will do so on foot or bike - parking lots also exist at the Community Center Park in Chapel Hill, and Umstead Park in Chapel Hill.

What about the Cobblestone path?

A "neighborhood way" on Cobblestone, through the disconnected cul-de-sacs, and a sidewalk along Homestead has been proposed as an alternative to a connected greenway network. There are a number of shortcomings to the Cobblestone neighborhoodway. First, Cobblestone is steep at nearly 5% average gradient over a quarter mile. It's so steep that it is listed as a competitive segment on the exercise app Strava. 

Second, Cobblestone connects to Hillsborough, which is a busy arterial road with a 35 MPH speed limit. The town has committed to building bike infrastructure that can accommodate riders between 8 and 80 years-old, and riding with traffic and up steep hills does not meet that criteria.

 Finally, it again only addresses bikers -- and the primary users of the Bolin Creek Trail, the Morgan Creek Trail, and the Booker Creek Trail in Chapel Hill are all pedestrians.