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Thursday, January 16, 2014

An urban exploration of Raleigh's most forgotten waterway (and future river walk)

Posted by on Thu, Jan 16, 2014 at 4:12 PM

Earlier this week, I reported that the city of Raleigh and Sasaki Associates both hope their
ten-year master "Downtown Plan" will have a "huge water element" like a river walk. Raleigh is one of only three state capitals that was not built along a major body of water; the other two cities are Carson City, Nev. and Helena, Mont.

Silver expressed interest in incorporating not one, but two "river walks" into downtown through a process called"daylighting"—uncovering and restoring diminished streams and creeks. There isn't much to choose from,so the two most likely candidates would be the Pigeon House Branch Creek on Capital and the Rocky Branchalong MLK Jr. City planners and the Urban Design Center have already been working on the Pigeon House Branch restoration for a couple of years. They hope it will be part of a Capital Boulevard Corridor redevelopment. The city has even begun moving out of city-owned property on the old Devereux Meadows baseball stadium site. It's all probably still another five or ten years out.

To properly consider the prospects of a Raleigh "river walk," I felt I had to see the "river" for myself. Pigeon House Branch creek is wedged back behind city property and Capital Boulevard, a truly forgotten waterway. It is currently hard to access. But for those looking for quiet corners of the city, there it is; a lovely, hidden snatch of wilderness, tucked behind development, railroads, freeways, and hedges. 
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The Pigeon House Branch starts strong. This lovely little grotto is wedged between a parking lot and the Ormanentea Bead Shop on West Street. A rusted trestle sits overhead. Overall, a great opener—perfect place for both hipster photo shoot and illicit Mad Dog 20/20 drinking, (or maybe these two activities together.) 

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The Pigeon House disappears into culverts and tunnels and re-emerges on the other side of Peace Street, directed along a concrete channel and buttressed by a mossy stone wall, behind the Raleigh Public Works building. It's merely a trickle here.
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The creek disappears again. This time under a stretch of road that looks like it could be a disused greenway. Warehouses loom above and there's a grind rail and a basketball hoop. It seems like an ideal spot for skateboarding.
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When the creek next re-emerges, it goes down a concrete waterfall, exiting civilization back into some proper nature. There are brambles and clay, boulders, and even some tiny sandy embankments. Beaches for gnomes, almost. A real river! You can almost hear them shouting "Mark Twain."
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The river maintains through the old Devereux Meadows site. All the land around here is city-owned and so it's quiet. There are police cars and old brick warehouses and maintenance trucks pulling in and out. The Pigeon House Branch gets VERY nice right here. It's nice now in January so I can only imagine it's downright paradisaical in the summertime. There's rocks and boulders and even an old crumbling wooden bridge across the river (I mean stream.) Looks like a perfect spot for a picnic for two.
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The mighty river disappearing under Wade Avenue.
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On the other side of Capital Boulevard, the creek disappears into oblivion behind porn and chop shops. It reemerges on the other side of Boost Mobile wedged, as usual, between concrete.
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After a while on the crummy east side of Capital Boulevard, the creek crisscrosses back to the west side, then back to the east side. Following it across the six lane road and the overpasses and underpasses becomes increasingly difficult. By the warehouses near the Blount Street overpass it really opens up. This seems like the ideal land for a green way.
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Making my way over Blount Street and Wake Forest Road, I follow the scent down a rutted clay road, and see it again behind a mechanic shop. It's like I'm playing hide and go seek with the creek. Here, it is down in a boulder-strewn clay gully, covered with moss. Even though you can hear the whoosh of traffic from Capital Boulevard, its so peaceful down there. Hidden nature at its most perfect.

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