Local man’s efforts making greenways a better place

Next time you’re walking on the greenway, your trip may be a little more peaceful because of Kevin Williams. And odds are you’ll see him there if you look hard enough.

(Above) Members of the Touchstone community meet once a month with Kevin Williams (in yellow), a park ambassador who works every week to improve south Charlotte greenways.

The south Charlotte resident is one of the Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation Department’s park ambassadors. He moved to the area in 2008, immediately discovered the county’s extensive greenway system, and in 2010 signed up with the volunteer program that works to keep the trails clean and safe.

“I was on the greenway quite a bit, so I thought maybe I’ll reach out to parks and rec and perhaps they’ll need a volunteer,” Williams said. “When I would go and walk or run or ride my mountain bike on the greenways, I’d already pick up trash as I went along.”

Anyone 18 and up can be a park ambassador. The volunteers just keep an eye on the greenways, cleaning up when they see something simple that needs to be done and reporting back to the parks department about the state of the greenways.

Williams cares for six miles of trail from Rea Road to Pineville-Matthews Road, which includes stretches of Four Mile Creek, Lower McAlpine and McMullen Creek greenways.

Ambassadors also serve as sources of information for others on the greenway, answering questions about directions, wildlife and other issues, Williams said. They must commit to serving at least six months in the ambassador role and attend an orientation seminar. It doesn’t take a lot of effort, but can go a long way in making an impact, Williams said. He spends at least eight hours a week on the greenways, though that’s not required.

“I want people to just realize we can all give back to the community in some way, and for me that’s being a park ambassador and I absolutely love doing it,” Williams said. “I’ve been out there in snow, ice, pouring-down rain, and I’m just drawn to it; the greenways are a beautiful place.”

But Williams isn’t alone in his mission. Members of the nearby Touchstone neighborhood join him once a month to clean up litter, prune trees or bushes when they start to get overgrown near trails and just generally spruce up the area. Boy Scout troops also sometimes come out to spend a little time learning about nature.

“Touchstone was really involved when the greenway was being developed, and we wanted the trail to stay nice so a lot of our neighbors go out and pick up trash near their properties,” said Terri Otten, a Touchstone resident who works with

Williams now and then. The once-a-month sessions are “an opportunity to get more done than we were on our own,” Otten added. “With Kevin, he gives us projects – specific projects like clipping back things that are overgrown – and he provides clippers, he provides garbage bags and everything we need.”

Otten walks on the greenway “four or five times a week,” she said, and often runs into Williams, who will either be just out enjoying the trail himself, or off in the woods bagging litter.

“If he’s not doing something, he’s just inspecting the trails, riding his bike up and down, helping people with questions,” Otten said. “He does a good job representing the county.”

Williams likes to do what he can, but he also just likes being on the greenways. He sees deer “all the time,” he said, as well as beavers, muskrats, ducks and “a few blue herons.” It’s a chance for Williams, who works as a sound engineer, to go enjoy the sounds of nature even though he lives in the heart of a growing metropolitan.

“It puts a smile on my face to see people enjoying the greenway and keeping it clean and safe,” he said.

For more information on becoming an ambassador, visit the parks department’s website, www.parkandrec.com, and click on the “volunteer” link on the left-hand side. The website also has information about the individual greenways in south Charlotte.

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