LUMBERTON — It’s been in the works for years, with talk, planning, and sketches being made, and Hurricane Matthew interrupting the process, but phase one of the riverwalk project is under construction.
The walkway and deck will give people a better view of the blackwater Lumber River in downtown Lumberton and the natural wonders of the state park.
Phase one is expected to be completed by the end of October.
“For years, the city and county have not seen the river as a resource, or as a place to congregate,” said Connie Russ, downtown development coordinator. “It will open the visual aspect to possibilities.”
The downtown region and the riverwalk will attract more tourists and residents to the river’s edge.
“It will add ambience and give people a place to walk and enjoy as the river goes by,” Mayor Bruce Davis of Lumberton said. “It’s something else to do instead of seeing weeds.”
Sherwood Sutherland, president of Rediscover Downtown Lumberton, said it will be a key part of efforts to bring the downtown area back to life.
“It’s a really good addition to the downtown area,” he sai.d “It will enhance the downtown business district, and be an opportunity to be used as a scenic resource to the downtown area. Residents can see and experience the river area in a nice venue. We’re appreciative to the city leadership and council for being able to support and bring this to fruition.”
Construction continues from Third and Water streets north to the Fifth Street bridge. No street closures are planned.
A 40-foot-wide deck will extend over the river about 12 feet. The wood will rest on the river bottom and support the deck under the natural roof of overhanging trees. The project starts on the south side of the old N.C. Department of Transportation building.
“The project is a handicapped-accessible overlook on the river,” said Rose McPherson, project manager for Axel McPherson Construction. “It will be a wood frame deck on pilings, with an aluminum rail.”
“The accessibility is a major improvement,” Sutherland said. “The accessibility factor for everyone to utilize the resource and the picturesque environment is major. It will attract more people, develop the economy and provide more access to people with disabilities that they couldn’t do previously.”
Axel McPherson Marine Construction is doing the construction under the oversight of Koontz and Noble, a local engineering firm.
The Lumberton riverwalk is based on a riverwalk in Conway, Russ said. The decks and walkway are of a similar design.
The lumber for the deck and pilings is treated to prevent rotting.
“We’re following the engineer specified amount and type of treatments on this wood,” McPherson said. “It should have long life, similar to the way beach houses are exposed to salt water.”
Potential difficulties in the project surfaced in the first week of construction. While placing the pilings, workers encountered obstacles to placement of the lumber.
“We’ve hit some sort of hardpan or something,” Ken McPherson said. “It’s blocking our piles from going in.”
Jesse McPherson was spending time underwater to attempt to remove the problem. While using an air hose to blast dirt from the rocks, the problem appeared to be old logs.
“It turned out to be some hard clay in the riverbed,” Jeremy McPherson said. “We had to auger into the riverbed to get the posts in there.”
Setting the concrete in the trenches and leveling the posts was the next step. But that won’t be too hard, Jeremy McPherson said.
“Once the pilings are in, the rest is easy,” he said.
There are plans for N.C. Wildlife Resources to build a floating dock beside the new construction that will allow a boat to dock, said Brandon Love, Lumberton Planning director. That is in the planning stage. One possibility is the ability to have watercraft on the river.
“We may be able to put canoes on the other side of Second Street,” Davis said. “We could paddle up to the floating platforms.”
Preparation for the current phase has included careful clearing.
“We might have to do a little demolition on a sidewalk area, but that’s it,” Rose McPherson said.
“Some of the trash will be cleared out as well,” said Brandon Koontz, of Koontz Noble and Associates.
“None of the cypress trees will be touched,” Love said.
Some shrubbery, a fire pit, and an existing chain link fence will also be removed.
A new handrail is going in the fence’s place.
“The rail is unifying the first phase aesthetically,” Love said.
A 4-by-24 foot observation pier will be located near the end of Fourth Street.
To fulfill the terms of the contract, Axel McPherson has 60 days to finish phase one. The date is important because that’s when a $150,000 grant from the North Carolina General Assembly will expire.
We don’t see any problem with the time, McPherson said.
“I’m anxious to get this installed,” Love said, “and to move on to phase two.”
The 115-mile-long river was designated by the General Assembly in 1989 as a “Natural and Scenic River” and a state park. It is the only blackwater river in North Carolina to be designated as a National Wild and Scenic River by the Department of the Interior.