Thursday evening, Sig Hutchinson and Vic Lebsock shared their respective visions of the Triangle greenway scene at the monthly meeting of the Sierra Club’s Capital Group chapter. Hutchinson represented a more future-oriented, farsighted approach that deals in both reality and hopeful thinking both necessary to The Big Picture, Lebsock with the laser-focused nearsightedness required keep things advancing day to day. Their respective approaches showed how two people can both look at the cup being half full — with differing degrees of fullness
Some background. In the mid-1990s, Sig Hutchinson’s brother-in-law bought a mountain bike. It looked like fun, so Hutchinson bought one, too. Besides, a 23-mile-long trail ran behind his house that looked like it would be fun to ride. Trouble was, he soon learned, that trail — the South Shore Trail along Falls Lake, part of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail — was off limits to two-wheeled pedestrians. No biggie, he thought: I’ll just get a little grass roots support going and we’ll get the trail open to mountain biking. “We’ll be riding it in six months, tops,” he told me at the time.
It’s 15 years later and that trail is still open only to hikers. In the meantime, Hutchinson has emerged as the Triangle’s leading advocate for trails and greenways (he’s a past president of the Triangle Greenways Council and currently chairs Wake County’s Open Space and Parks Advisory Committee), and one of its prime advocates for mass transportation. Despite his initial setback in trail advocacy and his subsequent brushes with bureaucracy on various levels, Hutchinson sticks to his motivational speaker roots and retains an indefatigable optimism that sees the cup not only half full, but somehow brimming half full.
Vic Lebsock, on the other hand, has worked within the bureaucracy in Raleigh for 22 years, much of that as senior planner for Raleigh’s greenways. He knows how legal issues can strangle a project: Punching through a 2-mile stretch of greenway along Crabtree Creek that would link 11 miles of existing greenway with Umstead State Park has been a 10-year battle thanks to a neighborhood lawsuit. He knows how challenges with lowest-bidding contractors can bog down a project: Repairing a 200-yard boardwalk on the Crabtree Creek greenway took two years longer than expected due to disputes with the contractor. And every project he begins begins with an environmental assessment that can raise all sorts of unforeseen challenges. As a result, perhaps, of being too optimistic early on, he’s learned not to raise the hopes of his constituents with optimistic projections.
Their divergent cup half full vs. cup-becoming-half-full-but-not-as-quickly-as-you-might-hope viewpoints surfaced when they were asked about the status of the aforementioned 2-mile stretch of missing greenway linking the Crabtree Greenway with Umstead. There was a pause as the two eyed each other for direction. “How much can I say about that?” Hutchinson asked Lebsock. “Can I say anything? I can say something. …”
The two went on to jointly explain that the project had been held hostage by a lawsuit between the landowner, a quarry seeking city approval to expand operations on land it already owned, and neighbors, who weren’t crazy about china-rattling dynamite blasting closer to home. A series of recent events appears to be breaking the lawsuit logjam, but because it is a sensitive — and still potentially volatile — legal issue, and because it has dragged on for 10 years, just how quickly that logjam might unjam is unclear. Enter the diverging philosophies.
“I think we might see something happen within 18 months,” Hutchinson offered, adding. “We have the money for the project, by the way.”
Lebsock demurred. “This has been going on for 10 years.” That seemed to make Hutchinson even more optimistic; moments later he changed his prediction to 6 to 9 months.
Six months or nine months or 18, “it’s looking very optimistic,” Hutchinson emphasized. Regardless, it’s certainly closer to being a done deal than mountain biking on the South Shore Trail.
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Vic Lebsock may have been reluctant to attach a timeline to the missing Crabtree/Umstead greenway link, but he wasn’t when it came to five other Raleigh greenway projects. Come back Monday and we’ll give you the latest word on five projects that will add 41 miles of greenway to Raleigh’s existing 63 miles by 2014.