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$4M Road to Soccer Fields, Nature Center Finished

A five-year project to improve access to the region’s most popular fields and zoo is finished.

The $3.9 million project involved roads and streams near the John B. Lewis Soccer Complex, Recreation Park and the WNC Nature Center.

“This project demonstrates how a community vision can be translated into an economic asset and has added value to one of Asheville’s most popular and appreciated city park areas,” said Stormwater Services Manager McCray Coates.

Winding Azalea Road gave access to the popular facilities and has a steep rock face on one side and a sheer drop-off to water on the other. Estimates just to widen Azalea in 2008 approached $1 million.

Instead, the project turned the most dangerous section of the road into a one-way area, added a traffic circle and routed opposing traffic over an old dam and then onto a new bridge crossing the Swannanoa River.

The rerouting includes new sidewalks and bike lanes as well as a waterline to the soccer fields. Before that, no potable piped water was available. The project required stream relocation and adjustments to the floodplain.

Money for the project came from city coffers as well as the state’s Department of Transportation and Division of Water Resources.

The soccer fields get about 500,000 visits a year from local residents and players from around the region.

The nature center had 117,000 visitors in 2014, its fourth straight year of record attendance. The changes could bring that number up to 250,000, supporters say.

Flood control measures, including reactivating the dam, may be added in a later phase. That would allow water to be kept in at times of heavy runs such as the 2004 tropical storms that led to flooding in Biltmore Village downstream.

The 70-acre area that encompasses the fields were once home to Lake Craig, a popular recreational area for boaters and other water enthusiasts. Movies were once shown on outdoor screens for boaters before the lake filled with silt and was closed in the 1950s. The area served as farmland until it was sold and became the soccer complex in 2005.

An official public celebration of the project’s completion is planned for 1 p.m. April 18. Mayor Esther Manheimer will lead a dedication followed by the release of 1,000 rubber duckies by Asheville Buncombe Youth Soccer Association. The ducky race on the Swannanoa is part of fundraising effort for field improvements.

Azalea Park | John B. Lewis Soccer Complex