Thursday, June 13, 2024

Belville expects new Riverwalk improvements to start this summer

The fishing pier entrance at Belville Riverwalk Park. (Carl Blankenship/Port City Daily)

BELVILLE — A small town’s dream to create an iconic park is creeping toward fruition as it checks off boxes for environmental surveying.

Belville has made additions to its Riverwalk Park since it took the facility back from the county in 2014. Now, it’s closing in on major projects outlined in its Vision 2030 plan, approved in 2021.

READ MORE: First dragonfly pond in the state to be installed at Belville’s Riverwalk Park

The latest improvement was not included in the plan: a recently completed dragonfly pond in the nature area of the park. The pond is intended to be a means for mosquito control and an educational asset near the park’s Duke Energy Education Pavilion. In late 2021 the town completed an Americans with Disabilities Act Compliant kayak launch as well.

Next on the agenda is trail extension from the existing park north to U.S. 74, tapped as the highest-priority project for the park in the town’s 2030 plan since it’s the area’s most-popular feature. Town Manager Athina Williams said the town is working to move ahead with work on a multi-use path this summer, with details to be hashed out in the coming months.

The town is awaiting approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on a wetland delineation survey it commissioned last year; a response is expected in the next couple weeks. The survey will guide the design process for the new trail.

Williams told Port City Daily residents can expect to see wetland flagging soon.

The long-term goal is to extend the park’s boardwalk and trail space north to U.S. 74. It would wrap around a section of property the town hopes to become a downtown area, to include a marina, amphitheater, food truck parking, community center and botanical gardens, among other improvements.

A critical part of those upgrades was presented Monday night: the only bathymetric survey of the section of the Brunswick River that runs next to the park. Bathymetry is the practice of surveying the depth of a bodies of water.

Owen Gidlow, geomatics group director for civil engineering firm WithersRavenel, presented the bathymetry survey to the town board of commissioners. He walked them through the process used to create it: A trolling vessel worked its way through the inlet and collected tens of thousands of depth data points.

The town needed the survey to comply with Coastal Areas Management Act regulations for some of its upcoming improvements, notably the marina, boardwalk extension and any future commercial water taxi service. 

Williams said the bathymetric work could affect boardwalk construction because it has to meet height regulations to minimize impact on aquatic plants and animals. The town wants to extend its existing boardwalk by 2,400 feet, and farther into the river.

Gidlow requested permission to share the survey with the USACE to  benefit the corps if it needs to perform work in the area. Up to this point, the USACE has not taken an interest in the Brunswick River. It is a 6.2-mile offshoot of the Cape Fear River with no existing commercial boating activity and deemed “non-navigable.”

That the river is not included on the navigable waters list does not mean boats cannot travel on it. Rather it does not meet part of the USACE’s definition of “use to transport interstate or foreign commerce.”

“It was a labor of love for me because of the fact this is something I thought would be beneficial, not only to Belville, but all the citizens of the state of North Carolina,” Gidlow said.

Williams noted the USACE is responsible for wetlands mapping and the information will be a useful addition to its database.

The commissioners agreed to provide the survey to the USACE.

Gidlow told PCD if the waters did meet the navigable definition, like the Cape Fear proper, the USACE would have produced its own surveys sufficient for the town’s purposes. He noted the survey is important to determine where and in what conditions vessels of certain sizes can traverse the river, as well as where a marina could be placed. The survey cost the town $2,500.

This is the latest in a long-list of projects Gidlow has completed for Belville. He has been working with officials since 2006, shortly after he moved to the area; he surveyed the park as part of the town’s effort to reclaim ownership from the county.

His company also performed the property boundary and wetland surveys to the north of the existing site.

Gidlow’s surveying work has made such an impact on the town, the commissioners honored him with a resolution thanking him for his service Monday.

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