Gateway Park

New Public Park on Riverside Drive at Pearson Bridge

RiverLink is delighted to announce plans to develop its latest public green space designed to serve cyclists, runners, and pedestrians along the French Broad River. The new Gateway Park will be constructed on Riverside Drive at the Pearson Bridge, where a sign currently marks the nearby OM Sanctuary – which donated the parcel to RiverLink in 2011. With meandering pathways and native plantings, arched gateways at both entrances and a carousel-inspired pavilion, the new park will resurrect a smaller version of the historic Riverside Park found at this location in the early 20th Century.

Emerging Multi-Modal Northern Corridor

Gateway Park will provide a natural respite for future users of two multi-modal transportation improvements planned for the Riverside Drive corridor: one as NC Department of Transportation completes plans to bring protected bike and pedestrian lanes on Riverside Drive; and the second is NCDOT’s partnership with the City of Asheville to extend their riverside greenway past White Duck Taco north to Pearson Bridge. When complete, these improvements will provide an essential link between greenways and river parks in Asheville’s River Arts District and those of the ongoing Woodfin Greenway Blueway project in one of the busiest travel corridors in the Asheville area.

“Thirty-five years ago, RiverLink’s founder, Karen Cragnolin, initiated a commitment to restoring degraded French Broad River properties to create destinations that conserve and elevate Asheville’s riverfront for public access and enjoyment,” said RiverLink’s Executive Director, Dr. Lisa Raleigh. “This project continues that legacy.”

Gateway Parcel and History

While the full parcel is a little over 2 acres, the riverside portion on the far side of the rail track will not be open to the public but rather supported as a thriving riparian zone promoting river health and flood resilience. In keeping with all RiverLink parks, the public portion of the property – the future 1.3-acre “parklet” between the rail line and Riverside Drive leads with conservation at its core – incorporating green solutions to natural challenges including flood mitigation as a fact of life in a flood-prone river corridor. Preserving soil, shade trees and other woody plants, and protecting the riparian zone over time represent key elements of the overall project.

The project continues RiverLink’s established approach to a small but unique site in a mostly industrial corridor. Back in 1904, as the location of Asheville’s Riverside Park, the property was part of a destination featuring an iconic carousel, a dance hall, a large boathouse, and a movie screen where movies could be viewed from a boat. Trolleys powered by hydroelectricity generated on the French Broad brought visitors from downtown and West Asheville. Riverside Park was damaged by fire in 1915 and completely destroyed by the great flood of 1916.

As with many properties along the river’s industrial corridor, this parcel was surrendered to blight and neglect that persisted for decades. During the 1950s and early 1960s, the City of Asheville operated a landfill adjacent to the property. With the donation to RiverLink, the parcel was preserved in a portfolio of sites that would advance the Wilma Dykeman Riverway as a link to a variety of regional destinations.

Park Design and Funding

“Collaborating with RiverLink to create Gateway Park is the realization of a dream,” said Shelli Stanback, founder of OM Sanctuary. “More than thirty years ago, my husband and I wished for parks and pathways along the French Broad to enjoy with our children. This inspired us to support RiverLink’s Wilma Dykeman RiverWay. Over the years, this visionary plan has flourished, blending recreation, the arts, health, and conservation through park development and mixed-use projects along transportation corridors near the river. In 2012, OM Sanctuary was established on a similar vision—as a 54-acre nature-based holistic retreat center—with a commitment to preserving 42 acres of forestland above the river.”

“RiverLink’s legacy and commitment to river parks and public access is evident throughout the River Arts District,” said Land Resources Manager Hannah Coats. “We are excited to create Gateway Park as a key amenity centered along what promises to be a much safer connector for pedestrians and cyclists between the RAD and the Town of Woodfin’s visionary investments along the French Broad River—including Taylor’s Wave which is on track to begin construction this year.”

The design for Gateway Park is the work of local landscape architects at Equinox Environmental. Funding was made possible thanks to a generous lead gift from Shelli Stanback. Additional financial support included $270,018 in matching funds from Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority’s new Legacy Investment From Tourism program, a Buncombe County Strategic Partnership grant, and support from the greenway advocates at Connect Buncombe. A grant to close fundraising for the project has been applied for through Buncombe County’s Open Space Bond.

“We are delighted to continue in our partnerships with the OM Sanctuary, City of Asheville and Buncombe County in bringing conserved green spaces for public access along the river – thanks to the support of inspired and committed funders who make these types of projects possible,” Raleigh said. “Good things are worth waiting for.”

Projected Opening: Summer 2025

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