CLYDE — A portion of River’s Edge Park in Clyde has always functioned as it should — as an overflow area that diverts water away from Clyde during heavy rains to keep the town from flooding.
The park side of the facility has had some challenges, though, and has been closed since the fall of 2017.
Now the park is reopening with a ceremony and community picnic at 11 a.m. Saturday.
The original name of the project was Town of Clyde Off-Channel Floodwater Storage Project and was designed in the aftermath of dual flooding events 15 years ago.
During September 2004, floodwaters from the Pigeon River destroyed homes and buildings all the way to the railroad tracks and even covered portions of U.S. 23, the main thoroughfare through town.
Flood relief funds approved by the General Assembly, as well as federal funding, covered the bulk of the off-channel flood storage and also helped replace a bridge that trapped debris, rehabilitate public buildings, restore the town square and pay homeowners market value to remove homes from the flood prone areas.
Part of the flood planning was to create a low-lying area across the river where floodwaters could spread out instead of heading toward town.
River’s Edge Park opened in 2014 and was originally meant to double as a public park area. A flawed design, along with heavy rains, however, closed the park in 2017 as the town worked to correct the issues.
What took so long?
Town Administrator Joy Garland said there were a lot of heavy rain events after the River’s Edge Park opened that washed out several areas, making it difficult to maintain the park and keep it open. The sidewalks were particularly unsuitable and had to be removed.
The town commissioned a study that recommended replacing the sidewalk with a natural walking path, stabilizing the eroding stream banks and restoring a riparian buffer, all of which would help hold flood waters in hopes they would slowly return to the river.
Funding for the park/floodwater storage work was boosted by grants from the Pigeon River Fund ($26,500), the N.C. Community Conservation Assistance Program ($70,000) and a Haywood Soil and Water Conservation grant ($4,476) to help fund stream bank erosion and riparian buffer vegetation.
There was plenty of volunteer help, as well, Garland said, citing Haywood Waterways, which has several teaching stations at the park, along with community residents and students from Haywood Community College and Central Haywood High School.
The work means that the Saturday opening will mark the first time in the past year and a half that the public will be allowed in the park.
Although the park redesign work began in late fall of 2017, rains delayed work, and at times washed out landscaping that had been planted.
“We had to work around Mother Nature,” Garland said. “That was really the holdup.”
The Vietnam Veterans of America chapter, which meets in Clyde, is co-sponsoring the grand reopening event Saturday.
Community residents are invited to join in the festivities that will feature a free hot dog lunch, cookies, a clown, face painting and plenty of time to socialize. The event is from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Those who had enjoyed the park before it closed are likely to be stunned at the transformation since then. Mayor Jim Trantham said more than 100 trees have been planted, including river birch.
This is a species the Grumpy Gardener in “Southern Living” recommended never planting in a yard, Trantham explained, because they have an expansive root system and soak up every bit of available water. It is that quality that makes the river birch the perfect tree to plant at River’s Edge Park, he said.
As he surveyed the most recent work at the park, Trantham pointed out the covered picnic area that can be reserved, the climbing structures where children can play and the outdoor classroom area designed with the help of Haywood Waterways Association.
He credited the late Clyde Alderman James Mashburn, for many of the landscaping plants, particularly the knock-out rose bushes that will bloom all summer. Mashburn often used his own money to beautify parks around town, he added.
Trantham said the original plan used “grass pavers” around the picnic area — concrete blocks where grass can grow in the center — as another way to help absorb water.
One day when Trantham was at the park, he saw a family struggling (and helped them) to get a wheelchair into the covered picnic area over the pavers. He immediately decided a sidewalk path was needed for accessibility.
Heavy rains a couple of weeks ago proved the new design is working just as planned, Garland said.
“The park was completely submerged,” she said. “Then the water slowly went down, and that is exactly what it was designed to do. The trees have helped stabilize the area and it’s not washing out as it did before.”