SCOUTING AROUND: Weather hinders volunteer efforts on RiverWalk
The website for the Murphy RiverWalk touts, “Every day is a good day on the RiverWalk.” However, damage caused by Mother Nature has caused some people to disagree with that statement.
An Aug. 1 letter to the editor in the Cherokee Scout said the RiverWalk had become “a black eye for Murphy.” That caused both Barbara Hughes, president of Heritage Partners, and Johnny Strawn, project manager of the RiverWalk, – among others – to respond with letters of their own.
“There’s a certain amount of justification,” Strawn said, adding that he wasn’t bothered by the letter. “We certainly get a lot more positive comments than negative.”
The trail follows the Hiwassee and Valley Rivers. Some portions are primitive, while other sections are paved or covered with gravel or wooden walkways, like the bridges and boardwalks.
The trail has flooded the last two summers, and this year it’s taking longer for the water to recede, delaying repairs. When it floods, Strawn said, the wooden walkways “want to float.”
He said they’ve had the work to repair the section between the boardwalk and bridge contracted out since May, but the weather has not cooperated for the work to be completed. The work to be done requires the section to be jacked up from underneath the boardwalk.
“This year was way beyond anything in the last 35 years,” Strawn said. “Historically, by now, the lake’s below full pool.”
Overall, he said the community has been very supportive of the RiverWalk and the work involved to maintain it.
“The community owns this trail, and the community loves this trail,” Strawn said.
The RiverWalk, a volunteer project sponsored by Heritage Partners, is managed and maintained by volunteers, with only the Konehete Park portion maintained by Cherokee County employees. It was created as a public and private partnership with various groups, including the Town of Murphy, Cherokee County, Tennessee Valley Authority, N.C. Department of Transportation and Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition. The trail is owned by the town but sits on TVA land. The Town of Murphy provides $7,500 each year for maintenance of the trail.
The RiverWalk was started as a concept in 2002, then formally approved by both the town council and county commission by the beginning of 2003. The trail was completed in phases; the first completed in fall of 2003, with all phases of the approximate 3-mile trail from Konehete Park to the L&N Depot downtown completed by 2010.
Another section that extends to Murphy High School just opened in March, completing the original goal of the project. This summer, the group was working on updating all kiosks with new maps of the extended trail, plus adding two new kiosks in the new section.
While major construction and repairs are done by contractors, regular maintenance and small repairs, like yard work, litter pickup and removing graffiti, are done by volunteers. While there’s a small group of regular volunteers – including Mitch Arrowood, Eddie Sylvester and Ernie Wilson – a majority of the hours are donated by volunteer groups, like the Boy Scouts and Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino Hero volunteers.
Jim “Sully” Sullivan, the RiverWalk’s volunteer coordinator, organizes workdays as needed. He has over 100 names on his list.
“When I call for volunteers, I’m lucky to get 7-10 to show up,” he said.
Volunteers bring their own equipment – Sullivan and Arrowood mow sections of the RiverWalk with their own lawnmowers, while Wilson coordinates a team with their own leaf-blowers to clear the trail three days a week from September to mid-November.
“I just do it because I love running the trail,” Sullivan said. “I just enjoy doing it.”
He believes the community should volunteer because the RiverWalk brings joy to the people who live here and draws people to the area.
While a majority of regular volunteers are retired, he added that several of the groups who volunteer are youth groups, like one from Wilmore Kentucky Free Methodist Church that pulled weeds, cleared brush and removed invasive plants this summer.
“It makes me feel good about our future,” Sullivan said. “If they develop the volunteering behavior when young... they’ll continue on and stay actively involved in their community.”
Anyone wishing to volunteer their time may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 837-9395. Hughes added that since maintenance and construction of the trail is ongoing, the need for donations to support the trail is ongoing.
Linda Ray, the group’s treasurer, said the projected income allocated for the RiverWalk – including what the town provides, grants and donations – was $9,000, while budgeted expenditures for this year was $16,350, which included finishing construction on the new section of trail. In a typical year, expenditures are about $10,000, with $5,000 going toward general maintenance and the rest toward enhancements.
“The boardwalk is going to need much more than we have budgeted,” Ray said.
Anyone wishing to help financially may send donations designated for the RiverWalk to P.O. Box 1152, Murphy, NC 28906, or visit heritagepartners.org/donate.html.
Hughes reluctantly reassured residents that although Strawn plans to retire, there are people already on board who could step up as project manager, and keep the RiverWalk a source of pride for Murphy.
Samantha Sinclair is the Scouting Around columnist for the Cherokee Scout. You can reach her by email, email@example.com; fax, 837-5832; or by leaving a message in the office at 837-5122.