After moving to Asheville from Atlanta in 2006, the 68 year-old Barlow (better known as Brotherhug) led the effort to protect a secluded fourteen-acre forest along Hominy Creek known as the “Waller Tract.”
“It’s a magical place,” says Barlow. “The first time I saw the land I immediately felt that it needed to be public space.”
The price tag for the Waller Tract was too high for Brotherhug to handle alone, so he set out to convince public officials of the value of the narrow wedge of land along Hominy Creek. His case for more green space is a familiar one: urban parkland can improve ecological health; provide a place to play and gather; and help residents connect with nature, making the city more livable.
In 2011, thanks to his efforts, a coalition of public and private interests purchased the Waller Tract for $139,000 on behalf of the City of Asheville with the intent to establish the Hominy Creek Greenway. The tract is of historical note, as it includes a portion of the world’s first hydroelectric-powered trolley line developed by lumber baron Edwin Carrier in 1892.
From the get-go, Brotherhug envisioned a community park actually planned by the community. For him, spear-heading neighborhood movements is nothing new; in the 1980s, Brotherhug helped transform two acres of derelict urban Atlanta into a beloved community park and land trust.
In Asheville, he helped launch the Friends of Hominy Creek Greenway, Inc. (FOHCG), a group of volunteers dedicated to creating and managing the parkland that borders a 2/3 mile-long section of Hominy Creek in West Asheville. The FOHCG partners with local government, allied organizations, and residents to improve and manage the property. In 2014, the group signed a stewardship agreement with the City of Asheville.
In addition to being a corridor for commuters, the Hominy Creek Greenway is an unusual remnant of forest in the city, Barlow says. He hopes educators will take advantage of its proximity to schools to teach students about local history, plants and animals, and river ecology.