I have managed numerous social media accounts for non-profits, helping them narrate the voice of the cause. Below is a recent writing sample of an article I had published on behalf of a group I was working with…April 2023.
By Charlie Morris
Assisted by: Diane Robertson, Rob Crook
We now officially live in a time when even “environmentalists” believe that it’s good for a forest to have more pavement. How did we get here?
The fact that so many are in agreement about pavement inside of the last remaining intact patch of creekside urban forest (Bolin Forest of Carrboro, NC) in the entire RDU area, is proof of how pavement has become a part of our vision in how we “see” a forest. Recreation has been experienced for so long now by so many (within a city limit) as a stroll on pavement, a bikepath, with lights, with bathrooms-that we can’t imagine a forest without it. What’s wrong with that, you may wonder? The problem is that we are repeating the mistakes of the past without realizing it and the cost is too high.
The argument made in today’s Carrboro Town Council meetings and on blogs by urban planners is that Bolin Forest can’t be used safely as it is, that it’s too muddy, that it’s too rocky and rough. Unfortunately, the Carrboro Council, and many of the loudest voices in the community, do not center the forest as a natural resource to be protected but as an ‘amenity’ to be exploited and modernized. The lone exception is Randee Haven-O’Donnell the only environmental educator on the Council.
Settlers felt the same way about the forests, back in the 1800’s, before all of the NC virgin forest was cut. Here in NC, forests were characterized by settlers as impenetrable, dark, deep, not a place for mankind. The original clearcutting was seen as a way to sanitize and cleanse, to make way for the people (the settlers) and what they wanted. Are we really seeing Bolin Forest today any differently? In meetings and conversations we hear phrases like “sustainability and resilience”. These are only made real by policies that move away from exploitation and the kind of colonization behavior that has led to ravaging land use…to where we are right now.
In today’s blog articles (ex: as on Triangle Blog Blog) they say that we have community needs that must be met and therefore pavement has to be used before recreation can happen. In the 1800’s there was a growing economy that was hungry for timber to feed. NC forests were the food. Citizens viewed the forest as a utility only. The result? Out of roughly 34,444,160 square acres (53,819 sq. miles) of virgin NC forest…settlers whittled that number down to nearly nothing. Only .01% of original NC forest remains and that is luckily preserved (in Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest). Given this history, how are Chapel Hill and Carrboro not on a mission to save every single patch of forest that doesn’t have pavement through it?
What kind of world did the industrialists of the past hand to us? A world where superstorms loom, hurricanes and tornadoes increase, 100 year flood levels now occur annually in many places. “Climate Refugee” is now a commonly understood phrase. Species of flora and fauna becoming extinct share the headlines. We live in this downstream moment, mysteriously…arguing for more pavement. What we have not learned yet, is that always saying yes to what we want doesn’t give us what we actually need. If we follow the tenets of historical indigenous communities, that decisions made today should consider seven future generations, then we need to ensure the ecosystem which includes the fauna & flora of Bolin Creek is cared for. “The Seventh Generation Principle is based on an ancient Haudenosaunee (Iroquois)* philosophy that the decisions we make today should result in a sustainable world seven generations into the future.”
We are the later generations and we have a choice to make. It’s not even hard to do and it costs nothing to taxpayers. Just leave Bolin Forest wild and unpaved.
In a 2015 study conducted by students at UNC, they showed the Bolin Creek Watershed area was 16.9% covered by impervious surfaces (Bolin Creek Watershed: Stormwater Management & Equity). It has been proven that as little as 1% impervious surfaces can negatively affect water species and water quality. It is known that 10% of impervious surfaces in a watershed presents a true threat to a waterway. Bolin Creek is listed as a threatened waterway already for that reason. We don’t know what the current percentage of impervious surface is. It’s been 7 years since the UNC paper. But it’s certainly higher than 16.9% by now given the housing and retail that has popped up since 2015.
Flooding already covers the watershed forest lowlands with increasing ferocity when it rains because of how much upstream paving already exists. Once rain hits pavement or any impervious surface the water runs even faster into Bolin Creek, creating downstream flooding and erosion. Floodwaters will channel underneath any pavement along the creek and that sediment in turn raises the water levels of the creek, by making the creekbed more shallow. Pavement in a lowland flood zone results in more sediment being washed away, not the other way around. It’s why many progressive municipalities are even “daylighting” old streambeds and removing pavement…to restore the natural functions of water retention that a forest floor provides.
Bolin Forest is a scrappy little urban forest that is rare for any state to have. It needs our help, not roadwork. The creatures that live in the forest need someone to stop those machines designed to tear into the ground. Greenways just don’t roll out onto the forest floor like a red carpet and “boom” a magical trim perfect Greenway appears.
Building a “greenway” doesn’t mean anything environmentally friendly. It’s a road paving project. It’s months and months of heavy machinery burning diesel fuel, loud noise and even rock blasting. It’s trees being cut and crashing down. For every creature that lives in Bolin Forest, bringing in machinery to build a Greenway is a life-changing event. It’s the paving over of their habitat. The current and main pathways along Bolin Creek legally is a “sewer easement”. But that easement is primarily used every single day for foot and mountain bike travel and padded doggie feet. It represents not just a habitat for forest creatures but a way for many of us to enjoy the woods at a slower pace without having our machines and tech sharing the sounds of the woods.
Without pavement it is already the most enjoyed and used patch of forest in the area. People prefer it here because it is unpaved. Is there some compelling reason that the pro paving (ahem “pro road biking”) groups can’t stick to the greenways that have already been paved? Is there some reason that it hurts them to just let the slow movers and nature walkers take their time while walking without dodging the e-bikes, scooters and fast moving road bikes that accompany all paved greenways?
The argument has been made that it’s worth the effort because building a paved path will invite ever more users to the forest and the pro pavement crowd is correct. They are so right. People will come out but they won’t be leaving their cars behind. This trail would draw people from all over the Triangle…with their cars. They will drive to the trailheads, offload their bikes and enjoy their outing. Ironically this pathway, if paved, will increase greenhouse emissions. The whole idea of reducing greenhouse gasses by building a recreational greenway does work in some places. When you are connecting areas of dense use it totally makes sense and does remove cars from the roads. This pathway would do no such thing. It would simply be a recreational path and a destination that people 20 minutes or more away will drive to. We won’t even get into the costs of all the parking we would need to build to handle the increase in traffic.
Bolin Creek wild and unpaved still functions as part of the ecosystem. It’s not pristine. But we can help it recover instead of kicking it while it’s trying to continue to be a forest.
The proposed pavement would be 10 feet wide and roughly 2.2 miles long. That is 116,160 sq. feet. Or 2.67 acres. This amount of impervious surface area results in 720 gallons being added into the creek from a one inch rain event. This last week around April 8th, we saw a 2 inch rain event. Had Bolin Creek been paved already…that would have meant 1440 MORE gallons of water flowing downstream into Bolin Creek. Can downstream handle that? Can Camelot Village handle that? Many claim that paving this path addresses social justice and equity issues. How do the people being flooded out of Camelot Village feel about that? Can the flooded soccer fields where kids play free absorb that? In other words, the current path, as it is, keeps 1440 gallons OUT of the watershed, just by being its natural self.
The pathway would also require a 10” setback on each side of the pavement. That area would likely have to be filled with stone and riprap rock to keep the pavement from washing away. That means we are looking at 30 feet of cleared land or in other words, no longer a habitat for creatures great and small. Also pesticides will be applied to keep things from growing in this area. This figure isn’t just about flooding though. To all the critters that live in the forest it means a total of 348,480 square feet of habitat loss…all so we can use our wheeled objects…when we already have so much public paved space for recreation available in other spaces.
There are 2 miles of existing paved path along Bolin Creek from Umstead Park to Community Park. There are literal miles of lovely flat paved pathways for those who wish to recreate in that way. We have enough Greenway in this town to cover everyone’s needs. There has not been a day yet between these two towns where the greenways have been so overrun that people have complained there’s not enough space for everyone to recreate in the way that they choose.
It’s okay to have at least one lovely forested path along Bolin Creek that gives one that sense of wilderness. Don’t we all want to know that a place where adventure and the unexpected await if we choose to go?
Here’s the problem with pavement added for access into a forest…as soon as you pave- it’s no longer a forest. It has been domesticated.
It was 2009 when the Greenway Report suggesting paving along Bolin Forest was produced. It’s 2023 now and Carrboro Town Council is pushing hard to use this outdated information as proof of necessity. We live in a different world now and know so much more. Are we using the “more’ that we know? That we are allowing this proposal to be discussed, in conflict with best forest management practices, which undermines the ecosystem and exacerbates the stormwater issues, does not speak well for Carrboro Town governance. Let’s do better. Let’s keep Bolin Creek Wild.