Earlier this year, a Hickory friend told me about some of the city’s leadership visiting other municipalities to look at their riverwalks, parks, trails, downtowns, and so forth to get an idea of what might work in Hickory. In particular, the friend suggested, the Hickory team was impressed with Greenville, S.C., and such attractions as Falls Park on the Reedy (the Reedy River) and the Swamp Rabbit Trail. My friend suggested there was a “tale of two cities here,” one being Greenville, which is attracting people because of charms like its riverwalk, and the other being Hickory that would like to attract people by providing the sorts of features that 21st – century people, especially young adults, are looking for.
I haven’t experienced Greenville’s riverwalk but I’ve heard people say, “Oh, you’ve got to see it. It’s beautiful!” I have strolled such places in other states, such as Falls Park in Sioux Falls, SD. I saw young people, seniors, and children wandering up and down the wide sidewalk that runs alongside the river. At one point, I noticed people gathering on the terrace of an old quartzite building, which, I later discovered, used to be the Sioux Falls Light and Power Company. It’s now a restaurant that attracts loads of business because of its proximity to the lovely riverwalk.
To get an idea of where Hickory currently stands as it moves forward with plans to spruce itself up and hopefully encourage more people and more businesses – meaning more jobs – to locate in the city, I talked to longtime Hickory supporter, civic leader, and attorney Charles Dixon. He’s the chairman of the subcommittee tasked with crafting plans for a riverwalk.
First, I wondered where the walkway would be. Unlike places like Greenville and Sioux Falls, there’s no waterway running through or near downtown Hickory. Dixon explained that the plan is to install a riverwalk along a portion of Lake Hickory. He said the Deidra Lackey Memorial Park, which is in the design stage for the area where Geitner-Rotary Park is located, will be put in before the riverwalk and will be located at the north end of the walkway.
The south end of the riverwalk will be on the property on which Hickory’s water treatment facility is located. The total distance of the proposed walkway is less than a mile, but Dixon explained that trails, which will be enhanced, currently exist throughout the area, so people will be able to depart from the riverwalk and follow those paths. “There’s a lot of land that’s going to be usable,” said Dixon, who pointed out numerous existing features, such as tennis courts, a baseball diamond, a VFW building, an army reserve building, parks, and a scout hut.
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Dixon said the state is going to build a new Hwy 321 bridge across the Catawba River. “It’s going to be elevated another 20 feet higher,” he shared, adding that the new bridge also will be longer. “This will be one of the gateways to the city,” said Dixon. “Traffic coming from both directions will be able to see the riverwalk due to the elevation (of the bridge).”
Dixon also said there’s discussion about leaving one of the current Hwy 321 bridges in place for pedestrian use.
Naturally, there are topographical challenges to a riverwalk in this area. The south end, which will undergo beautification and shielding of the water treatment facility, is somewhat level as is the north end where the Deidre Lackey Memorial Park is going, but the middle “is very challenging because it’s so steep,” Dixon explained.
Three designs are on the table, and each design has its own price tag. Of course, the most appealing design is the one that puts riverwalk users closest to the water from beginning to end. Because of environmental rules, such as not cutting trees that are over 4 inches in diameter within the first 20 feet from the water, and resulting construction constraints, including dictates concerning where a bulldozer can and cannot go, this plan would cost the most.
A second design puts a good portion of the walkway further inland, and the third would put even more distance between riverwalkers and the water during a lengthy section of the path. In other words, the more space between the lake and the walkway, the less expensive the riverwalk.
“We’re trying to make the best use of the land that’s out there,” said Dixon, suggesting that the task and its cost are not being considered lightly. Whichever design wins out, the riverwalk, along with the Deidra Lackey Memorial Park, will be a desirable destination for Catawba Valley residents and visitors. Among the features will be attractive lighting; parking, picnic, and event areas; boardwalks built over the water; a place to launch canoes and kayaks; and, hopefully, subsequent commercial development in the riverwalk’s vicinity.
Dixon said there’s talk of an eventual pathway that will “run from Deidra Lackey Memorial Park, come down along the rim of the river, cross Highway 321, and make a loop of some sort to get over to LP Frans Stadium."
“I think it’s a big, big effort,” Dixon stated. “City leaders have been discussing the need to do this for a long time. (I’m involved because) I am interested in doing things to help the city as well as the county become a more beautiful, prosperous, and diversified place.”
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