From grants to goats

Grassroots group takes on daunting challenge, measures progress in small steps
Apr. 01, 2013 @ 07:42 PM

Dorothy Darr has no illusions about what it will take to reverse the decline of High Point’s traditional industrial heartland.
Darr, co-chair of the Southwest Renewal Foundation, has made it her mission to transform the two-square-mile area between English Road, South Main Street and West Market Center Drive into a place that will draw new businesses and create a better quality of life for residents.
Darr’s goal isn’t some pipe dream that she has no idea how to implement.
She and others with the group can point to tangible accomplishments. They have made the foundation a model for how to get things done at the grassroots level, ferreting through red tape to track down lines on government grants and bringing in small donations, forging ties with local government officials and business leaders, and finding practical solutions that make the renewal job look less daunting.

Neglected beauty

The southwest was once High Point’s industrial engine, but much of it has withered into a state of blight as the furniture and textile mills closed down over the years.
“It’s like a third-world country,” Darr said. “It’s a beautiful district, but you can’t see the beauty of it, because it’s been so neglected. It’s got so many nice features. We want to make the inner city livable.”
Darr and others see the group’s work as complementing that of The City Project, the city-funded nonprofit organization that works to implement High Point’s Core City Plan.
Unlike The City Project, though, the foundation is entirely a volunteer effort.
The group developed a concept map with a $3,000 grant from the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina that sets out its vision of “economic revitalization through environmental enhancement.”
Darr and others with the group have made PowerPoint presentations and distributed copies of the concept map, talking about their vision and accomplishments to date to drum up support for their efforts.
“We’ve always felt like, if we could make the area look more inviting and more attractive, that would be the first thing that we could do to really catch attention to the area,” said Dot Kearns, a former member of the Guilford County Board of Education and Board of Commissioners who is involved with the group. “There have been a lot of things that have occurred that have been very positive, that are small and somewhat disparate, but they’re coming along.”

Successes so far

The area where the foundation has perhaps had the most success to date is in improving the area’s appearance.
It’s developing a greenway plan along Richland Creek and old railroad spurs through the heart of the neighborhood. It’s working to clear out sections of the railroad bed, as well as the creek. To this end, the group has planted 33 trees along a portion of the railroad on West High Avenue.
Guilford County has acquired six acres next to Oak Hill Elementary School, and a local estate donated 7.29 acres to the foundation that will be incorporated into the plans for the greenway.
Of course, as with all of the foundation’s work, the heavy lifting in making a greenway a reality will come down to finding the money for it.
The hope is to obtain funding from the N.C. Department of Transportation for a study that would examine whether a greenway is feasible in the southwest. A study would be a necessary first step in the process of how the city — or any entity — could go about developing a greenway, from how environmental factors might impact its path to how much property or right of way would have to be acquired.
The city is applying for $200,000 that has been earmarked at the division level of the DOT to fund the study. The grant also could fund sidewalk construction to the two elementary schools in the district — Oak Hill and Fairview — and three city parks: Harvell, Golston and Southside.
The hope is for the greenway to connect six parks in and around the neighborhood.
Last fall, the foundation enlisted some help in its cleanup mission.

‘You must see the creek before you can visualize the greenway'

It used a $5,000 grant from the Cemela Foundation to bring in about 50 goats from a local farm to clear the kudzu along Richland Creek. Darr said the city has given the foundation $5,000, which will get the goats started again in May. The hope is to keep them grazing for about six months so they can devour about 30 acres of the invasive plant.
The goats can’t actually eradicate the kudzu, but they can eat the leaves off the plant to the point that the roots are exposed. This, in turn, means that less pesticide has to be sprayed to kill the kudzu, reducing the amount of toxins that wind up in the creek, according to Darr.
“We’re going to concentrate again this year on Richland Creek — making it visible again, a scenic corridor,” she said. “You must see the creek before you can visualize the greenway.”