By Emma Castleberry
RiverLink, an environmental advocacy group dedicated to the French Broad watershed, has launched a partnership with Friends of Woodfin Greenway & Blueway (FWG&B) in support of the Woodfin Greenway & Blueway project. “Until joining with RiverLink, FWG&B was an organization led and administered by volunteers,” says Rick Lutovsky, co-founder of the Friends group. “We were faced with either formalizing as a professional organization of our own or partnering. RiverLink has the tools and expertise, so our decision was easy. We are certain that FWG&B will be more effective now than we possibly could have been otherwise.”
The Woodfin Greenway & Blueway is an $18.1 million project that will result in five miles of greenway along the French Broad River and Beaverdam Creek, featuring new and expanded parks, an extended urban trail network, new river access sites and an in-stream wave feature for surfers and whitewater paddlers. The project, which is being designed and built by the Town of Woodfin, is slated for completion in 2021.
In 2016, more than 70 percent of Woodfin voters approved a $4.5 million bond referendum as core funding for the project. FWG&B was founded ahead of the referendum and, to date, has supported more than $13 million in fundraising for the project. The YMCA of Western North Carolina was also a critical partner in raising these initial funds. Before joining with RiverLink, the Friends group was an unincorporated volunteer effort and therefore did not have 501(c)(3) status with the IRS, so it was unable to directly receive donations. “The YMCA graciously agreed to support the project as fiscal sponsor to enable the fundraising effort,” says Marc Hunt, who co-founded FWG&B with Lutovsky. “RiverLink is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and one of the benefits of this partnership is that donations can now flow more directly into the effort.”
The Friends group will technically become a program of RiverLink, but will retain a distinct brand and community presence. Hunt and Lutovsky will remain actively involved as members of the FWG&B Advisory Committee of RiverLink. “RiverLink brings strengths on many fronts—from civic and philanthropic connections in the community to a professional fundraising operation to strong board leadership to communications capabilities to simple back-office functions like accounting and legal,” says Hunt. “Just a couple of months into the partnership, we are already seeing the benefits.”
“We have known from the start that this challenging project would have to be a team effort,” says Jerry VeHaun, mayor of the Town of Woodfin. “Much work remains, from raising the remaining goal of $4 million-plus to getting the project built.” Future fundraising goals include an ambitious effort to raise $1.588 million from private sources. Donations of any size are accepted at the project’s website.