When Raleigh was still in its infancy as a city and developers were running wild building up the infrastructure, there was little attention paid to the environmental aspects of the area.
William Flournoy, born and raised in Raleigh, enjoyed his explorations of the region and became so familiar with the area he could name every stream within a five-mile radius of his home. So he could see the detrimental effect that exponential unplanned growth was having on the forests and rivers he loved so much.
“I was out there before normal people were,” Flournoy says. “We had a place that was out in the countryside, outside the city limits. Of course, today, that place is now well inside the Beltway. It was a different place back then.”
Flournoy, a 1972 graduate of NC State, began working on a plan for a greenway system that would not only preserve the wildlife that inhabited Wake County but also provide the residents with a source of recreation that keeps them connected with nature.
“I took the concept of a greenway system and turned it into a 140-page report of the city, detailing all the benefits,” Flournoy says. “At the time, if you cared about the parks you tended to be looked at as a custodian. I was coming through at a perfect time as people transitioned to caring about the outdoors.”
Flournoy was just beginning his 35-year career in the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, a career that would bring him much recognition. Most recently, Flournoy was given the North Carolina chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects’ Community Service Award.
Dubbed “the father of Raleigh’s greenways,” Flournoy grew up in the 1950’s, when the population of Raleigh was less than 100,000 people. Much of Raleigh was “country,” but when urbanization of the city began in the 70’s, he saw his childhood areas being threatened with construction.
In 1970, as a grad student at NC State, Flournoy developed a plan to use floodplain zoning to create a greenway system that would surround and cut through the city, and also save the wildlife that meant everything to him.
Today, the Capital Area Greenway System encompasses over 100 miles of trails. Residents have a myriad of options to explore the trails and reconnect with Wake County as it was before Raleigh became a burgeoning city.
Flournoy says the results are better air quality and more recreational opportunities leading to a healthier lifestyle for residents. The greenway system also allows animals to continue their migration patterns that would otherwise be interrupted by urbanization.
“The greenway system definitely makes Raleigh an attractive destination for people looking for a place to live and also the residents already here,” Flournoy says.
Flournoy has since retired, and while he doesn’t get to explore the vast greenway system as much as he once did, he always has his bicycle in good working condition, prepared for the next adventure.