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Lemonade Out of Lemons: NC Town Turns Problem Into Economic Boom

Downtown businesses are flourishing in Mount Airy, thanks to the development of a greenway, because of increased residents, tourists and events. (Allen Forrest/flickr)
Downtown businesses are flourishing in Mount Airy, thanks to the development of a greenway, because of increased residents, tourists and events. (Allen Forrest/flickr)
November 27, 2017

MOUNT AIRY, N.C. – As development expands in even the smallest of North Carolina towns, erosion is a growing problem for existing waterways.

That was the case for Mount Airy before city planners partnered with water conservation experts to find a solution that's paying back in big dividends.

To prevent further erosion and clean up the Ararat River that passes through the town, more than six miles of greenway were built.

Darren Lewis, Mount Airy’s assistant parks and recreation director, says in addition to fixing a problem, the Granite Greenway planted an economic seed.

"We're really excited about what it has done for the private businesses that really see the value of the greenway,” he states. “It has created several businesses that have opened along the greenway."

Several restaurants and outdoor recreation businesses have plans to open up along the river, and some have already opened their doors.

In addition, the greenway has inspired at least 15 different races or charity walks that are helping local nonprofit groups and drawing tourists to the area.

City Manager Barbara Jones says the benefits created from better managing the waterway will be experienced for generations.

"It has turned into a great opportunity,” she states. “It has turned into a great economic driver for us. It has been definitely a positive boost for Mount Airy."

Like many cities, Mount Airy felt the impact of the Great Recession and several large factories shut down.

Community development organizer Martin Collins says because of the renewed interest in the downtown coming from the Granite Greenway, the city has been able to redevelop the large buildings into spaces for businesses and residents.

"We're finding reuse of vacant buildings by business, and other adaptive reuses that will provide more customers for downtown businesses and restaurants," he explains.

The Mount Airy greenway project came about as a result of a partnership with Resource Institute, a nonprofit organization that manages public funds and partners with local groups to better manage water resources.


Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC