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Mecklenburg Park and Rec gets $50M for future parks and greenways

Mecklenburg County
A greenway in Mecklenburg County.

A lot more land could be set aside for future parks and greenways thanks to a big boost in funding from the Mecklenburg County Commission.

Commissioners voted last month to give the Park and Recreation department $50 million to acquire land for future parks, greenways and nature preserves over the next 12 months.

That's more than twice as much as the $20 million the department received last fiscal year for land acquisition, and it surpasses the $35 million the department had initially requested for this year.

The Park and Recreation Department hopes to spend that money quickly, said Capital Planning Director Bert Lynn, because land available for parks and nature preserves has been shrinking in recent years.

"We're definitely running out of land," Lynn said. "At the rate of growth within Charlotte, we feel like we have a need to acquire land at a faster rate now, assuming that in 10 years' time, there will be fewer resources for us to go in and protect."

Lynn said his staff had already identified more than $50 million in properties it had reviewed and marked as high priority for future parks, greenways and nature preserves, and hoped to begin buying up the land for the projects as soon as they could.

Most of the land is in 17 "areas of focus" where residents have limited access to public green space, Lynn said. These include areas to the north and northwest of uptown, areas around University City, and communities surrounding the county's outlying towns, including Davidson, Cornelius, Matthews and Mint Hill.

The advocacy group Sustain Charlotte also hopes the Park and Recreation department will use the money to connect more of the county's segmented greenway system.

"We have a patchwork of greenways when what we really want is a network," said the group's founder and executive director, Shannon Binns, "So looking at those gaps but also doing it in a way that makes sure this investment is spread around the community in a way that benefits everyone."

The county has so far built 62 miles of greenways, Lynn said, against the county's ambitious goal to one day have a network of 308 miles of developed greenways.

Lynn said the department had built about four miles of greenways over the past 12 months and had about 13 miles slated for construction in the coming 12 months.

Lynn also said his department had recently held some "high level" meetings with a group of residents advocating for a massive 220-acre park on the current site of railyard on the edge of uptown Charlotte.

The $50 million likely couldn't help that project, Lynn said, because the railyard is owned by Norfolk Southern, and the company has shown no interest in selling the land.

Lynn also said his department was looking for a new space for a group of skateboarders whose DIY skatepark was torn down in March to make way for a new development on the former Eastland Mall site. Lynn said he was working with the city to identify a new space by the fall.

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Nick de la Canal is an on air host and reporter covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal