Further adventures on the Bicentennial Greenway

by Jordan Green

The experience of walking the High Point section of the Bicentennial Greenway makes municipal boundary lines appear to be arbitrary and fictitious demarcations. A short spur near East Fork Road affords a pastoral vista of golf carts puttering over the green near the entrance of Jamestown Park. The Rebecca Rhodes Smothers Piedmont Environmental Center, a modest stretch away, is clearly a High Point fixture. Gibson Park, with its expanse of ball fields, is owned by Guilford County and operated by the town of Jamestown.

Which is essentially the point of greenways: They take us out of the imposed patterns of the built environment — based on major thoroughfares — and re-orient us along the natural contours of the land. South of Gallimore Dairy Road, where High Point and Greensboro bump up against each other, the greenway follows the East Fork of the Deep River, much of it through land that is either unsuitable for development or that, more to the point, is critical watershed that needs protection from development.

The experience of walking the High Point section of the Bicentennial Greenway makes municipal boundary lines appear to be arbitrary and fictitious demarcations.

Cruising west at rush hour on Wendover Avenue, which connects Greensboro and High Point, you prob ably wouldn’t think about the fact that you’re passing from the Haw River watershed into the Deep River watershed, both of which comprise parts of the Cape Fear River system that empties into the Atlantic Ocean near Wilmington. But the rivers and their tributaries are the salient geographic fact of the unfinished greenway, which traces Horse Pen Creek, which feeds into the Haw River and then picks up the East Fork, in between crossing the headwaters of both rivers near Piedmont Triad International Airport.

The High Point section of the greenway, as you may have heard, is much more impressive than its Greensboro counterpart. For starters, it’s more or less complete. Beyond that, it’s paved throughout, with a wide berth to comfortably accommodate passing runners, cyclists and multiple-dog walkers. With the exception of a series of gnarly perpendicular bumps, it’s way smoother than the pathway in Greensboro.

On a recent visit, I dropped my bicycle off at the Piedmont Environmental Center, dropped my car off at Gibson Park, then walked to the environmental center and biked back, venturing on to the northern tier between Wendover Avenue and Gallimore Dairy Road. As a cycling path, the greenway has a lot to like; a rollercoaster series of mini-hills, a tunnel under Wendover Avenue and wooden plank bridges traversing marshland are highlights.

Named in commemoration of the bicentennial of North Carolina’s ratification as the 12th state in the union in 1789, it’s an early example of regionalism. One senses that High Point, having an opportunity to showcase its affluent northern tier, was the more enthusiastic partner in the compact, with Greensboro as the larger city seeing less need for collaboration. The High Point leg of the greenway also displays thoughtful, though weathered touches, such as a placard that describes the plant succession of the Deep River valley, explaining how the Loblolly pine forest that now blankets the land is a product of the tree-planting efforts the Civilian Conservation Corps, one of the “alphabet soup” agencies created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as part of that era’s stimulus program. The placard explains that the land was first planted with subsistence crops such as corn, sweet potatoes and hay, then cotton and tobacco to feed the burgeoning industries, and finally abandoned as farmers gave up the land for more secure work in the mills.

The High Point City Council is wrangling at the moment over whether to spend bond money to improve its greenway network or use the money for other parks and recreation priorities. In a perfect world, the council could justify such an expenditure as an enhancement to the city’s transportation infrastructure and an alternative for those who cannot afford to drive or choose not too. In truth, the greenway does not connect obvious destinations. It links an affluent residential area of Greensboro with an affluent residential area of High Point, albeit with some corporate campuses sprinkled around its middle. Thus, it functions more as a backyard recreational facility than as a practical transportation corridor. At its southern end, it terminates at stretch of Penny Road crossing a branch of High Point Lake that is more rural than urban in character. The greenway doesn’t come anywhere close to the furniture market.

A greenway linking Four Seasons Town Centre and High Point University would likely provide a more practical menu of destinations and more access points from neighborhoods in both cities, along with downtown Jamestown.

All the same, the Bicentennial Greenway, as it carves the landscape through High Point, proves itself a valuable asset, with dozens of runners, walkers and their animals, romantic couples and serious cycles plying its surface on any given day.