The town of Canton is in the early stages of planning a new bicycle and pedestrian lane, with the hopes of revitalizing its downtown area.
Like many of the small mountain towns in Western North Carolina, Canton is looking for ways to keep up in twenty first century. But this task has been a particularly challenging one for Canton because it’s a mill town, best known for its paper mill—which often emits a rather strong… aroma, in the Smoky Mountain air.
Just ask Seth Hendler-Voss, who’s been Canton’s Town Manager since 2014.
“It’s a beautiful little town. It’s a relatively undiscovered town, and in a lot of ways it’s been looked over because of some stigmas that have been circulating around the region for many years.”
The paper mill?
“Yeah, yeah. As you know, we’re a tourism-based economy in Western North Caronlina, for the most part, and people aren’t accustomed to twentieth century living. And so this mill kind of rubs some people the wrong way.”
The town has taken on numerous projects over the last few years in to revitalize its historic downtown area, and now, it’s in the early stages of planning a new bicycle and pedestrian lane.
“Every successful small town has an indelible sense of place and leaves people with a good impression. One of the first things people recognize when visiting a town is how walkable it is, how navigable it is, how safe it is, how convenient it is to navigate through. This project will allow folks safe passage through town as they visit.”
Officials began looking into adding the new lane back in April of 2015, when the state Department of Transportation awarded the town a planning grant of roughly $40,000. By making downtown more accessible to bicyclists and pedestrians, town officials hope to attract the growing number of younger residents spilling out into towns like Canton from the region’s more urban areas.
“As Asheville becomes more pricey to live in, folks have recognized the great value that Canton provides, particularly in our housing stock. You can live much cheaper here in Canton.”
The reaction was mixed by shop owners downtown, but they all agree the move could help bring more business their way, even if they don’t necessarily see a whole lot of bike traffic.
“I think we’re going to bring Canton back, I really do,” that’s Randy O’Quinn, owner of Jros Burgers and Subs, which just opened up shop two months ago. “I think it might bring people in, I think it’s a good idea, I really do.”
Hairdresser Ame Swanger, of Vain Salon, agrees: “I think it’s great. I didn’t know anything about it, but I think it’ll be good. I don’t see a lot of bicycle traffic. There might be a lot of people that would like to ride their bikes if there was a lane. Right now? Why not? Try something.”
Other shops however are skeptical, like Carrol Apple, of Golden Apple, who would like Canton to focus more on advertising its downtown.
“They don’t bother to concentrate on the businesses. Does anybody even know we exist? That’s the thing. ‘Oh let’s do a bike lane. Let’s fix the roads up’. But they don’t do any advertising, or anything like ‘come check out downtown’… I do see people on bikes. But maybe if there’s an event? Bikes. But on a daily basis? Nah.”
The town conducted its first public input session last month, which drew 20 residents. All voiced support of the proposed lane, as well as connecting existing sidewalks to shopping centers and neighborhoods.