Richmond Hill Woods City Park

This blog is dedicated to preserving Asheville, NC's largest wooded green space, Richmond Hill Park, from becoming an athletic field complex and National Guard armory. If you want to Save this wooded park WRITE, CALL or email all City Council and Parks and Recreation TODAY. TEll them you oppose the ball fields in this unique, hilly and amazing wooded park. There are better places for ball fields than in the exceptional city park.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Asheville Citizen-Time Guest Commentary (Tuesday 3-14-06)

One of Asheville’s irreplaceable treasures is in jeopardy. At 183 acres Richmond Hill Park is Asheville’s largest wooded green space. The strength of this park is its size, with an extensive network of multi-use trails, gurgling creeks and springs, large trees and abundant wildlife.

Mature hardwoods, 100 to 200-plus-year-old white oaks, hickories, tulip poplars, sycamores, red and silver maples, red oaks, plus a rich understory of flowering and silky dogwood, eastern hemlocks, American beech, American hollies, sourwoods and black gums provide an escape from summer’s heat and beauty year around.

The groundcover is equally diverse and beautiful, with cranefly orchids, pink lady slipper and other wildflowers, running cedar, mosses, ferns, rhododendron, flame azaleas, mountain laurel, hearts a’bursting and more.

The extensive wetland complexes provide habitat for salamanders, frogs and turtles of tremendous variety. This park houses a rare type of seasonal wetland habitat that is critical for many amphibian species, with only 5 percent to 10 percent of these seasonal wetlands remaining in the Southern Appalachians.

The mixed hardwood/evergreen canopy provides a diverse and important habitat for birds including: eastern bluebirds, warblers, pileated woodpeckers, wild turkeys, woodcocks, migratory neotropical songbirds and numerous other species.

They all utilize this important continuous track of woods for food, shelter and/or breeding. Smith Creek and the French Broad River provide an important water source for wildlife as well as a scenic view for park visitors. The relaxing gurgle of a mountain stream can cut through the worst tensions of modern life.

This park already supports a diverse and rapidly growing number of users including disc golfers, mountain bikers, hikers, joggers, dog walkers, serenity seekers, naturalists and birdwatchers. This park is perfectly suited for low-impact outdoor activities, and the popularity of these woods is growing rapidly as word spreads. This park is used by hundreds of city residents and visitors each week and is the perfect setting for educational opportunities, giving our children a chance to learn from what we have protected.

Today this park is truly a valuable jewel in the crown of Asheville. City officials underestimate the value and popularity of this park to city residents and visitors. The park is now slated to have 20 percent, or 30-35 acres, cleared and leveled for four ball fields, one soccer field, concessions building and a 140-car parking lot, along with a new National Guard Armory. Also, the entrance to this ball complex will be through the quiet neighborhood of Richmond Hill, adding noise, pollution and peril to the neighborhoods’ children and residents as hundreds of extra cars come whizzing through.

I don’t oppose baseball, but it’s not difficult to see that this is simply not the place for ball fields. The impact will be severe and irreversible. Destroying such a large part of this unique and beautiful park is not in the city’s or the environment’s best interest. Parks and Recreation Department officials say that they will install storm water retention and other Best Management Practices (BMPs) to mitigate the increased runoff and erosion, but BMPs are a sorry substitute for conservation. While they say that the current uses of the park will continue, current park users will be relegated to a park drastically reduced in size and quality.

More appropriate places for ball fields are in areas already cleared, open or along the floodplain. Parks and Recreation could also work with schools in north Asheville to maintain and increase the availability existing baseball fields. If the city commits to finding an appropriate location for new fields, no one has to lose out in this situation. It doesn’t make sense for the city to destroy valuable green space when it is trying to create green space within the city. What would New York City be without Central Park?

In Asheville we are seeing our natural areas and scenic views developed at an astounding rate.

Please join with me, local conservation groups, small businesses and the hundreds of other city residents in supporting a vision for Asheville that honors the need to keep this unique and amazing park wooded and intact.

Please visit www.Richmond hillwoods.blogspot.com for trail maps, dates for public meetings, Web links; a petition and more information about this exceptional city park. I am asking you to tell City Council, Parks and Recreation and the city manager that it is important to preserve such an amazing city treasure intact, so the City of Asheville has this wooded park that it can be proud of.

James Wood is a student at UNC Asheville majoring in environmental science and biology. A resident of the Richmond Hill area of Asheville, he is a frequent park user. He has lived in Asheville for six years.

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