RiverLink was conceived at the Asheville Chamber of Commerce in the mid-1980’s in an effort to keep visitors “one more day” beyond their stay at the Biltmore Estate. The River, and downtown Asheville for that matter was not an attractive place at that time and was mostly the remnants of heavy industry, a junkyard or an informal dumping area for trash. RiverLink incorporators Jean Webb, Robert Kendrick and Caroll Hughes hired founding director Karen Cragnolin despite having a requirement to raise the funds to support the organization and pay her own salary. Karen served RiverLink and our region for 30 years and is considered one of our region’s greatest visionaries for seeing parks, river accesses, paddle trails, experiential K-12 educational opportunities, and places to escape modern life where others may have only seen the neglect of the River that was emblematic of the Riverfront when she began the RiverLink journey in 1986.
By the time Karen retired in August 2016, RiverLink Board of Directors began the process of memorializing her enormous contributions by naming the former Eddico Junkyard site and future public park, Karen Cragnolin Park. RiverLink continues to be inspired by our founding director as well as other community leaders like Jean Webb and the great author Wilma Dykeman. The legacy of RiverLink can best be described by Dykeman’s written words in her groundbreaking work, The French Broad, “There is only one respectable course for a free citizen and that is to shoulder his share of the responsibility for the ‘killing’, for the pollution . . . Because, just as the River belongs to no one, it belongs to everyone and everyone is held accountable for its health and condition.”