When Nancy Pierce moved to Charlotte for a job in 1979, she chose to live close-in for the urban feel. But she longed for a body of water she could walk to. In her home state of Minnesota, water was plentiful for play, solace, and inspiration.
“I didn’t like Charlotte,” she said. “It was disconnected from nature. The creeks were buried and forgotten. There was no river access.”
But her career flourished here. In the mid-1980s she and her husband moved to Merry Oaks, a small neighborhood hemmed in by busy Eastway Drive, Central Avenue and Briar Creek, which was inaccessible. As their sons grew, Nancy became passionate about creek access and bike/ped connectivity.
She joined the county’s first Greenway Advisory Council and the city’s Bicycle Advisory Committee. In the mid-1990s she founded the Merry Oaks Neighborhood Association, which backed up her advocacy for ped/bike connectivity across Briar Creek to Plaza Midwood.
Nancy and her neighbors scrutinized property and flood zone maps, waded in the creek, bushwhacked through thick woods looking for trail routes, met with property owners, and lobbied city/county staff. Eventually the county removed several flood-prone houses and built a short Briar Creek Greenway trail section. The city built a spur to Plaza Midwood.
And in 2006-- ironically, the year before her younger son left for college -- Nancy watched through happy tears as a crane dropped a bike/ped bridge over Briar Creek. Then she and four neighbors joined hands and walked across.
Since then, new Merry Oaks neighbors have created a community garden and gathering space near the trail.
“Running or cycling over the bridge now, I see kids arriving by bike to play on the sandbar, fish, wade and skip stones,” Nancy says. “It’s provided relief and solace during the pandemic. And we can leave our cars at home.”
For Nancy, who works as a documentary photographer, it comes down to love.
“Love is an active verb,” she says. “When you sink your feet into the muck and insist on what your community needs, that’s loving it. And then the love comes back to you tenfold.”
In coming years, the Briar Creek Greenway will connect downstream from Merry Oaks to the Chantilly Ecological Sanctuary, Eastover Ridge Nature Preserve and beyond.
At Sustain Charlotte, we’re so grateful for our sustaining members like Nancy who make our work possible. Interested in becoming a member? Learn more here.