Greenway taking shape

un rays break through the canopy of leaves overhead, and birds sing to each other in the trees.
Walking a newly cleared path through the dense woodland, you would hardly think you were within Lancaster’s city limits.
“It’s just beautiful. You really feel like you’re in the wilderness,” says Sherri Gregory, president of the Lindsay Pettus Greenway, as she leads the way through the undergrowth.
The greenway is now well under way, after breaking ground in April. The entire Phase 1 trail has been cleared, in addition to the site for the nature pavilion just beside the Lancaster County Chamber of Commerce building on Colonial Avenue.
The greenway, which will cut across the city of Lancaster along Gills Creek, is named after local historian and conservationist Lindsay Pettus, who founded the Katawba Valley Land Trust in 1992.
The master plan, consisting of 6 miles of trail, will be part of the Carolina Thread Trail, a developing regional network of greenways, trails and blueways throughout the Carolinas.
Split into two phases, the Lancaster project has raised about $5 million so far, including individual and corporate donations, government grants and $2.5 million from the county’s $19 million recreation bond approved last November.
Phase 1 of the greenway begins behind the Barr Street school and continues along Gills Creek for 2 miles, featuring an environmental education center and three public-access points.
Plans for Phase 2 extend the trail west on Woodland Drive toward MUSC Health Lancaster Medical Center, forking near Plantation Road. The southern path will connect with Springdale Recreation Center and its soccer fields, and the northern part of the trail will continue past Plantation Road, ending at S.C. 9 Bypass.
Ideally Phase 2 will connect to the USC Lancaster campus, Gregory said. “The big barrier to that is finding a way to safely get across the bypass,” she said.

A road in the woods
Most of the work done so far has involved clearing a path through the woodland to prepare for a hard-surface trail made from concrete or asphalt.
“Essentially, this project is like building a single-lane road in the woods,” Gregory said.
About half of Phase 1 will consist of an elevated boardwalk trail because so much of the area is wetlands. That means that after a heavy rain event, the trail will still be usable, Gregory explained.
Swale bridges are already being positioned at certain points of the trail to prevent water running over the walkway.
“We tried to eliminate that as much as possible,” said project manager Chad Catledge, president of Perception Builders – the local contractor executing the greenway’s construction.
Gregory described working with the Lancaster-based contractor as a “tremendous blessing.”
“It’s been very important to our board that we could keep as much of this as possible local,” she said.
Although the greenway is the contractor’s first project of this kind, Catledge said he is confident in a successful execution.
“There’s a proven process, and if we stick to it we’ll have a great result,” he said.

Education, conservation
Ultimately, the trail will provide both recreational and educational opportunities for visitors, Gregory said, with plenty of viewing points where walkers can stop and take a closer look at nature.
Environmental and conservation education will be a focal point of the trail between Woodland Drive and Colonial Drive, with educational signage and kiosks to encourage visitors to think and observe.
The nature pavilion, which will be located about halfway along the trail, will serve as a resource for the community.
“It has a lot of applications as a venue for the school district,” Gregory said.
Conservation is especially central to the greenway due to its close ties to the Katawba Valley Land Trust.
“That’s been one of our focuses – to disturb the natural landscape as little as we have to,” Gregory said.
Occasional twists and turns in the trail both create visual interest and avoid cutting down trees unnecessarily.
Eventually, bird boxes and indigenous plants will be installed and planted to attract specific species of birds and butterflies native to the area.
Constructed wetlands in that area will be planted with native species to provide habitat for wildlife.
Volunteers from Duke Energy recently did some minimal clearing along the nature trail, which will wrap around the area where the pavilion is located. That trail will have a natural rather than paved surface, leaving it walkable but framed by brush and shrubbery.
It will also feature two overlooks where walkers can spot wildlife along the creek.
Pausing for a few minutes on a section of the nature trail that butts up to Woodland Drive, Catledge said his favorite part of the greenway is feeling like he’s in the middle of nowhere.
“Nobody knows we’re here, and you really don’t know where you are,” he said. “There’s some respite to it.”
Gregory said the project’s design is somewhat inspired by the Four Mile Creek trail in South Charlotte, which is also located in an urban area. “It’s surrounded by neighborhoods and commercial properties, and yet it’s a little oasis in nature,” she said.

Phase 2
Subject to weather conditions, Phase 1 should be completed in about a year.
On completion, the greenway will be maintained and operated by the city of Lancaster, with the city managing the trail as part of its parks inventory, Gregory said.
Like the other parks in the city, the greenway will operate from 7 a.m. until dusk – initially anyway.
Regarding safety, the city’s police department plans to patrol the area with officers on bicycles, and color-coded mile markers will help people to identify what area they’re in if they need help.
Phase 2 is still in the planning stages, Gregory said, but she is hoping to be able to move seamlessly between the two phases, pending additional funding.
While planners have a conceptual idea of where the next phase of the trail would go, there needs to be more research into what makes the most sense for the existing landscape and natural environment, Gregory said.
The only hiccup in engineering Phase 1 is the extension of the greenway under Main Street at the intersection with Woodland Drive.
Although every other agency approved the request to run the trail under the bridge at the intersection, the Federal Emergency Management Agency denied the request due to concerns about upstream flooding.
However, the expected impact of running the trail under the bridge is only one tenth of an inch, so the project’s engineers will review their plans and seek approval again.
Gregory said that piece of the plan is critical for those who want to ride their bikes safely without having to cross Main Street.
“That’s very important to us,” she said. “We really want to see that happen.”

By Emily Pollok, Staff Reporter with The Lancaster News