Rising Waters

I went to my section of the greenway yesterday to see how it was faring with the heavy rain we have been experiencing here in Asheville. I had passed by the section a week earlier and saw that the water was very high, flowing through my section, and completely flooding it. This time, the river was not flowing on top of my section but was still much higher than usual. It was probably a couple of feet higher than usual.

This tree has been down in the water the whole time I have been doing this blog, but it is usually not this covered with water. Nor is the water usually this brown.

The water was quite murky and brown because of the rain and I saw many things floating down it. I could see multiple places where things that were floating down built up in brush along the sides of the river. Much of the built up debris was trash and tree branches. This reminded me how often things that are left on and in the ground will eventually end up in the water and will float down until they get caught and stuck somewhere else. As well as the trash caught in the river, there was evidence of flooding all over the asphalt path. It was covered in sediment and much of it was a bit slippery. I slid in mud multiple times, but luckily, did not fall into it or the water.

Another neat thing from this outing was that I saw two ducks swimming in the river. They were under a little pier that I was standing on and I saw one swim out and try to swim up river along the bank but stopped and went back. Then both swam out and tried to continue up river, but they struggled to swim upstream because of how fast the water was flowing. They had to fight the current and some brambles along the bank. I tried to follow them and see what they did, but they kept swimming away and then flew away. They were scared of me even though I only wanted to see them. They were Mallard ducks, one male and one female, very likely mates. They seemed worried about my presence and could not swim away fast enough, so they flew away. I was stuck on land and could not follow.

The ducks in the water trying to escape my watchful eyes.

I really enjoy seeing different creatures along the greenway. It’s always mesmerizing to see what creatures are there and what they are doing. Birds have been the prevalent creature I have seen in my section. They have been sitting up in trees or gliding around on the water. I have not seen much of any land dwelling creatures, likely because it has been very cold and because they may be more fearful of other land creatures. Birds can fly or swim away, while a groundhog can only scurry away. I look forward to going to my section more in the future just to enjoy it and see what other interesting creatures and happenings are occurring there.

Spring on the River

One of the really nice things about my stretch of the French Broad River Greenway is that it is often populated with people enjoying it. I have seen people slack-lining there; slack-lining is walking on a line tied between two trees. People also lie out in the grass and in hammocks. Lots of people walk, jog, roller-skate, and bike along the path. There are many dogs accompanying their humans. People fish on the river as well. Occasionally, people will swim or put their feet in the water. It is heavily enjoyed, especially in the summer.

Yesterday evening, I walked the stretch and saw many other people enjoying the area as well. One man was blowing huge bubbles. It was a really nice sunny evening. I noticed that there were few non-human animals around or at least visible. I saw a few Carolina Chickadees, which I particularly like. They are such cute little round birds with a black head.

This stretch of the greenway has a strong feeling of human to it. It is not like hiking in the woods where animals are encountered much more. It is also unlike a heavily maintained park with man made fountains. It has a feeling of being old and used. It is reasonably clean and kept since it is very visible and used, but it is not impressive. With rain, there is a lot of mud. The plants are wild and made up of mostly old and gnarly trees. There is also quite a bit of graffiti on the signs, under the bridge, and on the sewer manholes. Most of the man made stuff, like the signs, path, parking areas, bridge, manholes, and benches feel old and industrial. They feel structurally intact but also tired. The bridge is quite old and has parts on it that make loud clattering noises when cars cross.

Destruction of trees along the path, but it’s okay since someone drew a smiley face on a log (sarcasm). Not sure why these trees were cut down, maybe they were old, maybe for power lines, maybe for nearby construction.
The old bridge with some important notes.

My section of the greenway has a feeling of being old, unkept, and industrial. It has a feeling of nostalgia and wonder about what and who all has been there before. It feels old, like it needs to be redone and cleaned up, but does it really? If it gets “cleaned up” and redone, then it will lose its history and create a whole lot more erosion from the construction. It has a level of familiarity to it now that I would not want to see taken away if it were redone. I think there are parts of it that could be improved, but I do not think it should be wiped clean and redesigned to be more attractive to the human eye. It needs some improvements in drainage, right now there are a lot of deep dirt ditches for water to go through when it rains, but they are not very efficient or sturdy. They will simply wash away with the rain water. The manholes could use some improvement, not necessarily taken away, but rebuilt. Some are quite dilapidated and the rocks that were surrounding them have washed away. Some of the graffiti should probably be painted over because they are rude and negative political statements.

I would expect some work to be done on this section in the next few years because the greenway, further down, has been receiving plentiful construction and improvement. There are plans to continue it down below the section I have been writing about. It seems to make sense that the city would want the whole greenway to be well kept and have a similar feeling to it. I will be interested to find out how they might improve or change my section. Hopefully, not in an aggressive way, but just some little improvements.

Trees along the French Broad River Greenway

The predominant trees include: Black Cherry, Sycamore, River Birch, and Box Elder.

The Black Cherry tree is a deciduous tree that grows all along the Eastern side of the North American continent. It can grow up to 25 to 110 feet tall. It is aromatic and has white drooping flowers. It has dark red fruit. Its foliage and bark when crushed have a distinctive cherry-like odor and bitter taste. Its wood is used for furniture, paneling, professional and scientific instruments, handles, and toys. The bark can be used to make wild cherry syrup that acts as a cough medicine. Jelly and wine can be made from the fruit. The fruit may be edible but the rest of the plant can be toxic because of the cyanide-forming toxic compounds, like amygdalin, found in this tree. The tree was also one of the first “New World” trees brought back to England as early as 1629. It is now highly invasive there and in northern South America.

The American sycamore tree is a wide-canopied, deciduous tree. It can grow up to 75-100 feet tall and has a massive trunk. Its canopy is made up of an open crown of huge, crooked branches and is classified as a shade tree. Larger and older sycamores lose some of the bark at their tops to reveal the smooth, whitish inner bark. The wood can be used for furniture parts, millwork, flooring, and specialty products.

The River Birch tree grows along rivers. It is also used for landscapes and can be planted almost anywhere in the US. It can withstand wetness and some draught and grows quickly. It has unique curling bark and spreading limbs. It works well to lessen erosion along stream banks. Songbirds enjoy the seeds. Deer eat the foliage. The wood was previously used for ox yokes, wooden shoes, or other farm products. They were not logged much because the wood is knotty and spindly.

The Box Elder is native to all states in the US. It is in the maple family but has compound leaves like an elderberry. The tree is often described as ugly and weedy. The tree is very adaptable and grows easily. Its wood is soft and has no commercial value. They stabilize stream banks and shelter wildlife, but in urban areas they are thought of as weeds. The trees germinate very easily and will spread, but they also have brittle and weak wood that makes them easily broken in wind and ice storms. They can grow in most soils but prefer it to be either dry or wet.

The greenway has many Box Elders and River Birches. There are much fewer Sycamores and Black Cherries. The Box Elders are very scraggly trees and have lots of little branches going in all sorts of directions. They are not beautiful trees. However, they do their job along the river banks to keep the erosion down. Reading about each of these trees, the interesting things that stand out are the descriptions of the uses for these trees in the past. They all have some element that was used or at least tried to use but humans. I think it is apparent in the amount of each tree there is along the greenway. The Box Elder is the most plentiful and most are big and beat up which correlates to it being very unfavorable to use by humans. They have been left alone more to hold up the bank, but also because there is not much reason to cut them down other than their unfavorable appearance. Nevertheless, appearance is often important to humans, so they have probably also been cut down previously simply because a human wanted a better view.

Source Links

https://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=prse2

https://www.nashvilletreefoundation.org/blog/2019/11/5/tree-profile-box-elder-acer-negundo

https://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=ploc

https://www.arborday.org/trees/treeguide/treedetail.cfm?itemID=792

https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/ornamental/trees/maple/boxelder-maple-trees.htm

Second Outing

This particular outing was yesterday, Feb 24, and it was a surprisingly warm and sunny day. There were many people out enjoying the greenway. Many were walking, jogging, or biking. It was nice to see so many people out enjoying the pleasant weather.

On this occasion, I noticed the bridge at the end of my section. It sits where the Swannanoa River joins the French Broad River, so a lot of water passes under it. It is an old bridge and is rather rickety. It has metal pieces in it that clash when cars go over it, thus it is also a quite loud bridge. It appears weathered and mildly dilapidated. There is a pipe on its side that is broken and missing pieces. I wonder what the pipe was originally for. It seems to now be a pigeon home.

Pigeon in the pipe, possibly assessing life choices.

The bridge was built in the 1950s, but is still considered structurally sound. It is rickety on top as well and feels unsteady to drive over, but the Department of Transportation says it is structurally sound. People have noted that it moves and shakes, but that is normal for most bridges so that they do not crack. On top of the bridge, walkers and bikers have to cross as well as the traffic to continue on the greenway, which is not very easy or safe to do when the traffic is very busy. I have done it, but the walkway is about two feet wide next to the low railing. It needs to be rebuilt or changed in some way to allow for walkers and bikers to cross safely.

I found the bridge notable mostly because it is old and industrial, yet still works. It raises questions of wonder of what all it has been through and had cross over it. I wonder when parts of it broke and where those missing pipe pieces went. I wonder what sorts of things have floated below it and how high the water has flowed because of storms. I noticed that there were small chunks of concrete missing on the edge of one of the pillars holding up the bridge. I guess it is from trees or other things that have floated down during storms.

The bridge. You can see the broken end of the pipe at the top.

The bridge is old and dingy. There are old mattresses tucked under one side where people may sleep. It’s cracked and creaky. It’s industrial and old just like much of the River Arts area. But, it is interesting to see and muse on. And, it still works. It does not seem as though it is about to cave in or need major updates. It is a well traveled bridge, so when it is worked on, there will have to be detour to another bridge further down river. There are many bridges that cross the French broad in this area, each seems to be a bit bigger and higher than the last. It ends with the very high one that allows I-26 to pass into downtown. I remember crossing the bridge countless times and looking down into the River Arts district. It was not a place I went to before I moved to live very near to it. Now, it feels familiar and the bridge very far away, towering over the river and walking paths.

Works Cited:

Boyle, John. Answer Man: Is the Amboy Road Bridge Safe? Acton CIRCLE CONFUSION? 30 Nov. 2018, www.citizen-times.com/story/news/local/2018/11/30/answer-man-amboy-road-bridge-getting-dangerously-bouncy/2143624002/. 

First Outing

I have been to my place, the French Broad River Greenway, multiple times since I moved to Asheville back in the summer. My first time going with this blog in mind was a few weeks ago on a very cold day with snow beginning to blow in. I walked the stretch of greenway, assessing the river and how high it was. I noticed the bare trees and brown ground. I shivered with the trees in the wind.

This greenway follows a pavement path for most of the way, but switches to dirt/mud towards the end right before it goes under the bridge. That section has a wildness to it. The switch from pavement to dirt has an almost immediate change between human and animal. In previous walks there, I have seen groundhogs nibbling the grass at this junction. On this particular walk, I witnessed a sudden change in the amount of birds. There were quite a few small birds twittering in the bushes. There was a group of cold doves up on the power lines above the path. Crows were circling and bothering them. And, there was a hawk in a tree not but twenty feet from me. I watched it for probably twenty to thirty minutes. It was hunting. It was also cold like me. It would fluff up its feathers like I fluffed my coat in the wind. It looked at me some, but did not seem worried by my presence.

The hawk.
The cold doves or possibly pigeons.
The hawk again, from another angle.
The French Broad and one of the largest trees I saw along the greenway.

I later tried to identify the hawk. I narrowed it down to either a Cooper’s hawk or a Red-Shouldered hawk. Which one, I am not certain because the shoulders and tail were not very visible. It did not appear to be particularly red in color, so I think it to be a Cooper’s hawk, however it could have been young and immature.

I greatly enjoyed watching this hawk because it was wild but in a mostly human altered area. It sat on a tree right next to the road and above the river. I stood between it and the river, watching it as it watched for small creatures to eat for lunch. It was awe inspiring to watch it, but also worrisome because it was cold and hungry. I felt that I wanted to help it, but there was nothing I could do. This is the life of a hawk. They must perch and hunt, whether it be cold or hot.

At one point it flew to try to catch something near the road. It flew out of my sight, behind the bushes that sat along the road. I worried that it would be hit by a car; that road is well travelled and travelled quickly. I was concerned I might hear a thud. I waited for it to return for a few nervous seconds. It did, but without lunch. It continued its perching and watching. At that point, I decided to leave it because I had been standing around watching it for quite some time and it was very cold. But, it was a very enjoyable sight and I hope to see the hawk again the next time I go to the greenway.

Links to hawk identification:

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Coopers_Hawk/id

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Red-shouldered_Hawk/

Washing in, washing out

“Natives went elsewhere in search of a livelihood while outlanders came here in search of refuge from the urban blight. It is one of the ironies, and perhaps one of the hopes, of much of Appalachia that many of its people have found the secret of making a way of life where they often could not find means of making a living.” – Wilma Dykeman, The French Broad.

Dykeman captures a paradox of life along the French Broad river. Through the past few hundred years, the people who have grown up along it have had to leave to find work. At the same time, outside people have moved here to get away from larger, messier cities. These people have money and cause the price of land and homes to increase. This is causing more native people to have to leave because they cannot afford the higher prices. Outsiders are floating in while natives are getting washed down. Tourists flow in and out with the current.

I can attest to this fact here in Asheville. There is a housing crisis. Young people who try to make a living end up having to leave because they cannot afford to live here. Money is only good when the tourists are here, so many people rely on crafts, events, food, music, and outdoor adventuring to make their livings. But, that all slacks up in the fall and winter. With the pandemic, it is all worse. My older sister, who has been living in Asheville longer, has watched many of her friends, favorite restaurants and bars, and bands, dissolve or leave. They have been rushed away by the rapids of economic collapse.

A river is made up of what washes into it and down it. People have been fluctuating around it and so has the industry. The French Broad River’s cleanliness has been problematic for years. Forty years ago, it was not remotely clean. Along it, industry and production was booming and its trash was flushed into the French Broad. Car parts, appliances, and dead animals were often found in it. It required river clean ups and was not safe to play, fish, or float on (Clarke). It has improved with the diminishing of manufacturing along its banks and with the help of river cleaning companies, but it is not perfect. It is a resilient river and one of the oldest, but can it live forever?

The stretch of the French Broad in my location, the greenway, seems to be in danger. Further down it, another more recently improved section, sits below old, crumbling, factory buildings and railroads. That section, with its recent improvement and construction runoff, is more beautiful. However, the land holds many imperfections because of past pitiful and shoddy construction. Asheville sits on old pipes with no schematics to tell where they are. They cave in and cause sinkholes all over. I know of at least three that have occurred since I moved here last summer, and one just recently caved in along the banks of the French Broad in that newly improved section and mere feet outside my stretch of greenway for this blog. This shows some of the weird old problems of the past that are still popping up for us in the present. It’s crappy design. It’s cheap design.

This all connects to my place, the French Broad River Greenway, because of the water cycle. What is falling, sloshing through pipes, leaking through the ground, and spilling down hillsides ends up in the valley. It ends up in the deepest part that is the river. It swirls around in the river and travels further down it. It may seem that it flows away, but it does not. It seeps into the ground and is licked up by animals. It gets in their bodies and our bodies. It makes life gross for us and the animals. It makes life gross for the earth. We are spitting on our own mother.

My location is one of many along the French Broad that has construction, roads, railroads, homes, and pastures just above its banks. What is up there ends up down in the flow of the river because of the height changes, substantial rain, and consistent flooding this area of North Carolina must tread and stay afloat in.

Works Cited:

Clarke, Jess. Back from the Brink: The French Broad River. 1 Mar. 2010, www.ourstate.com/french-broad-river/. 

Dykeman, Wilma. The French Broad. Wakestone Books, 1955. 

French Broad River Greenway introduction

The location I chose for my project is part of the French Broad River Greenway in Asheville, North Carolina. My section begins at the RiverLink Karen Cragnolin Park and ends just after the Amboy Road bridge. It travels along the French Broad River. Above is the map of the area, below is a picture of the map with a pink line of the specific stretch.

Pink line is the walking path.

This stretch of the Greenway is not the prettiest stretch. It sits just above the water and often floods with rain. It is consistently muddy and holds water. The trees and brush between it and the river are messy and dipping into the flow of water. Above the path is a well travelled road. Above the road are businesses and homes. The homes are new and had accompanying destruction and construction that resulted in more sediment and runoff. There are power lines overhead and sewer pipes beneath. There are quite a few manholes that sit above ground that are old and dilapidated. The last third of the path, near to the bridge, turns from asphalt to dirt in a small woodsy area. This section is also consistently muddy and smelly and continues up under the bridge. There is trash on the ground. There may or may not be a homeless person’s mattress tucked up under the place where the bridge connects with the road. The river itself is wide, cold looking, murky, and green-brown. It is not a happy river.

Earlier this year, my sister and I rode our bikes a long way through this stretch of the greenway and much further up the newer section along Lyman Street. We passed through this section in the morning and returned to it in the afternoon. We were accustomed to it smelling, often of the sewer or muck, but that afternoon, it was worse. We approached and the dirt path was covered in gushing water coming from further up the path and spraying out of the sewer manholes. It was sewer water gushing out onto the path and straight into the French Broad River. We watched as tubers floated by. My sister then called the Municipal Waste department to alert them to this health hazard and we took a different path back to the car. We walked our bikes along the road up above the path and saw that the sewer water was flowing out of not one or two sewer holes, but probably four or five. We were disgusted and heartbroken for the river and land. The manholes have since been fixed. I do not think the pollution was cleaned up.

I took this back in the summer of the sewer water spewing into the French Broad River. It’s at least a foot deep. August 31, 2020.

I chose this stretch to do my journal on because I enjoy walking here and it has history. It stands out from the other stretches because it needs the most help. It needs human intervention because of human destruction. The French Broad River is a beautiful river that is used for plentiful tourism and human enjoyment, but it is hurting. It is dirty. It needs more love; love that actually involves help, not neglect. I hope to capture some of the beauty that is still there in this blog, hidden behind the human chaos that surrounds it.