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Coal ash and construction keep sections of Bolin Creek Greenway closed

The Bolin Creek Greenway Trail is visited by pedestrians and cyclists on a daily basis.
Parts of the Bolin Creek Greenway remain closed because of construction and coal ash.

With spring approaching and people ready to leave their houses amid state and county stay-at-home orders, many residents of Chapel Hill are making use of local greenways for exercise and entertainment.

That being said, not all parts of every greenway are open. Construction on the Bolin Creek Greenway has been underway for the past year, and the sections going through construction are still closed.

John Richardson, the planning manager for sustainability for Chapel Hill, said the closures are for the safety of residents. 

Phillip Fleischmann, director of the Chapel Hill Parks and Recreation Department, said two portions of the Bolin Creek Greenway are closed ⁠— the 500-foot section of the trail that runs under Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and the section along the hill next to the police station property.

Fleischmann said the portion of the trail under Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard is closed due to safety concerns caused by construction.

“This construction will make it so the trail will go under the street and make it so you won’t have to come up and go to the crosswalk to cross the street, but you can just continue on the trail,” Fleischmann said.

However, there is a detour that residents can use.

“We are asking trail users to take an alternate route to safely detour the work site using Bolinwood Drive and Hillsborough Street to walk around the closures,” Richardson said in an email.

The other portion of the greenway that is under work is closed because of coal ash that needs to be removed before pedestrians can safely use it.

The Town discovered the coal ash in 2013 and voted to start cleaning it up last year.

“We identified coal ash in that area that had to go through remediation, so we repaired what needed to be repaired after Hurricane Florence, and we now have a section blocked off to do the coal ash remediation,” said Marcia Purvis, the senior park planner for Chapel Hill Parks and Recreation.

According to a Frequently Asked Questions page on a Town website about the property, Chapel Hill acquired the property after the coal ash was already there and does not have any records that indicate what the source of the ash was.

Remediation procedures, according to the website, will include soil removal and backfill, along with additional signage and fencing.

Fleischmann said after these two stages are complete, there is still more work that needs to be done to replace decking and railings on bridges around other areas of the greenway.

“The bridge decking and railing really need to be replaced because they’re at the end of their usual life and starting to present a safety hazard if we didn’t do something,” Fleischmann said.

While there have been no construction delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Fleischmann said that it is a strange time to be undertaking a large construction project such as this one.

Richardson said the construction team is aware of the importance of social distancing and is taking precautions to stay safe.

“The contractors are following the latest public health guidance to maintain safe physical distancing and other measures,” he said.

Fleischmann added that while the Town encourages residents to use the parks and greenways system, it is important to continue to follow social distancing guidelines.

“We know that trails and greenways continue to be a popular feature within Chapel Hill, and the Town is trying to do its part to encourage folks to practice social distancing and be responsible in their use of trails and greenways,” Fleischmann said.


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