By Catherine Pritchard
Flowering vines twined around tree branches and shrubs in Linear Park on a sunny day in mid-March. Wind rustled through the trees and robins scoured the ground for food. At an overlook, Cross Creek could be seen flowing tranquilly far below.
The trail that runs through Linear Park in Fayetteville is a nice place to walk.
But you can’t go from one end of the trail to the other. A 150-foot section in the middle of the trail’s nearly 3-mile length was severely damaged by Hurricane Matthew in October 2016 and it still awaits repairs.
But officials say the work should be completed within the next year.
“The good Lord willing, by the next Dogwood Festival,” said Michael Gibson, director of the Fayetteville-Cumberland County Parks and Recreation Department, which oversees Linear Park.
Linear Park is a greenway that stretches from Festival Park in downtown Fayetteville to the Riverside Dog Park off U.S. 301.
It runs alongside or very near Cross Creek its entire length and through a variety of surroundings – including shady portions of downtown, past historic buildings, into the city’s oldest cemetery, down long quiet paths in the woods and in sight of the wriggly waggy bodies of dogs headed into the dog park.
Twelve years in the making, the park was completed in July 2015.
Fifteen months later, it was one of the many casualties of a devastating hurricane that dumped 18 inches of water in parts of Fayetteville in less than 24 hours. Much of downtown was submerged, including large swaths of Linear Park. The floodwaters ruined landscaping, left all kinds of debris in Cross Creek and Blount’s Creek and damaged masonry and other parts of the park. Much of that has been fixed or is being fixed now.
But there were much bigger problems. Some of the steep bluff overlooking Cross Creek near Lamon Street fell away, taking portions of the trail with it. Nearby, the bottom was torn off a 30-foot stairway that is part of the trail.
Those issues haven’t yet been repaired but should be in coming months. Gibson said the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which will pay for much of the repair work, has to approve all of the plans before anything is done and that has taken time. Other funding will come from the Golden LEAF Foundation while the city will cover the cost of staff time.
Harry Shaw grew up in downtown Fayetteville next to Cross Creek. The stream was his playground, providing a place to fish, catch tadpoles, walk along and do battle with other youngsters in the neighborhood. The stream was a constant element of his life, passing by his house, his church and later, the office where he worked.
“I felt a real kinship to that creek,” he said.
People had long talked about creating a trail along the creek’s path. As an adult, with experience in business and civic service, including several terms on the City Council, Shaw decided to do what he could to make the idea a reality.
He started by going in with a friend to buy a bit of land alongside the creek near what’s now Festival Park. Combined with city-owned land, it provided nearly seamless path along the creek between Ray Avenue and Green Street. Shaw later bought out his friend and told the city he would give the land to a nonprofit corporation whose purpose would be to create a Linear Park trail.
Over the next dozen years, that corporation, with Shaw at its head, worked with the city and with organizations, businesses and individuals who gave access and money and made the trail a reality.
“Everybody was so enthused and people were so generous,” Shaw said. “It was a fun thing for the city and one of the few things that everybody could get behind.”
He had figured the project would take ten years and $2 million to complete. It took just about exactly that on both counts – if you exclude the two years the project was delayed because of the reconstruction of the Grove Street bridge. A section of the trail which runs under the bridge couldn’t be completed until the larger project was.
But in July 2015, Shaw finally snipped the ribbon and Linear Park was open from beginning to end.
Now portions are closed again, including the section of trail under the Grove Street bridge. That section connects to the areas that need repairs.
“One of the reasons they’re taking their time to engineer it is so it doesn’t happen again,” Gibson said. He said many of the remaining repairs may be done by the end of this summer and the rest by next spring. He knows that Linear Park’s biggest booster – Shaw – won’t let him forget about the work.
“I’m very hopeful that it will be done,” said Shaw, who’s 91. “I hope to live to see it.”