The Brunswick Riverwalk
Three walking trails, a fishing pier, an outdoor educational pavilion, a 1,480-foot boardwalk, picnic areas, an observation deck, preserved historical ruins, spectacular views along the Brunswick River and enough parking for 128 vehicles comprise Phase I of The Brunswick Riverwalk at Belville.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY Megan Deitz
Joe Breault, commissioner on the Belville town board and moving force behind Brunswick Riverwalk, was among the 1,200 well-wishers at the grand opening on May 7.
“Three years ago it was a vision,” Breault says, as he drives a golf cart along the boardwalk at this new Brunswick County attraction. “Two and a half years later it’s finished under budget. Phase I is complete.”
Breault’s plans for Phase II include a restaurant and four retail shops, and he has designs for Phases III and IV. “I put a lot of thought into the project,” he says.
This massive undertaking emerged from an idea Breault had in November 2012. He believed the area surrounding the existing Brunswick River Park on N.C. Hwy. 133 could be transformed into an educational, historical, ecological and recreational attraction. “I’d drive by and see the land, and I didn’t want to see everything developed into housing,” he says. “We needed a plan to have access to nature.”
Breault won a seat on the Belville board in 2012 and proposed his idea. Mayor Mike Allen says he liked what he heard, but upon investigation, realized the town didn’t own the existing park. The county owned 11 acres and North Carolina Department of Transportation owned 14 acres, but the commissioners decided to acquire the land.
The board named Breault project manager and the retired arbitration engineer went to work. He contacted the necessary county and state principals, who agreed to cede the land to the town.
“You always have concerns about funding and permits, but Joe took hold and stayed with it every day,” Allen says.
Breault says they gave them five years to initiate Riverwalk or they would take the land back. He wrote a grant for a donation from Duke Energy to build an 840-square-foot outdoor educational pavilion. The project received $57,000 from that corporation. “This is my pride and joy,” Breault says of the pavilion.
He demonstrates how the seats at the five round tables inside the pavilion swing out to accommodate wheelchairs and those with special needs. The partial walls bring the outdoors inside with a breathtaking view of the river, trees and the surrounding environment. More than three dozen teachers have scheduled classes at the pavilion, and during the last two weeks of May five classes used it, he says.
“The entire K through 12 science core classes can be taught here,” he adds. He indicates the colorful pink, blue, orange and green wall panels. He’s proud to say that sixth graders from Leland Middle School painted them. Eagle Scouts built four picnic tables, and Cub Scouts built two wooden benches. ”Get the children involved, and they take ownership,” he says.
Breault admits that the permit process was a difficult part of developing Brunswick Riverwalk because 14 federal and state agencies were involved. As an example, he explains that the walking trails alone had to meet CAMA, wetlands and storm water requirements. The ruins found on the land needed special investigation, and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington is conducting an archeological study for remains of a rice plantation. “We’re trying to make this an educational entity, not just a park,” Breault says.
So Riverwalk wouldn’t be a burden on taxpayers, Breault pursued other revenue sources. North Carolina Parks and Recreation granted $160,000, which the Town of Belville matched. The now-defunct Community Transformation Group, a federal granting agency, contributed $13,000. This money paid for the boardwalk, an 1,800-square-foot observation deck, three walking trails, three picnic areas and the 125-foot fishing pier with 56 fishing positions and spots for wheelchair-bound fishermen. The town honored Breault by naming it the Joseph A. Breault Fishing Pier.
Six people have poles in the water when Breault wheels his golf cart on the pier. Flounder, eels, black drum, bass and a 13-pound catfish are catches so far. Breault says the Riverwalk is too new for him to have a favorite area, but he admits he’s partial to the fishing pier.
Total cost for Phase I is $487,000. The restaurant and four shops included in Phase II are estimated to cost $450,000. Income from these businesses will provide funds to maintain the park. Mayor Allen explains that the town has a two-year window to acquire funding, negotiate contracts and resolve issues concerning Phase II. Breault says Phase III extends trails and the boardwalk and the estimated cost is $2.1 million. Phase IV connects the Riverwalk to Battleship North Carolina, but the cost of this future endeavor is undetermined.
Breault didn’t grow up around parks and the outdoors. An only child, he was born in Sudbury, Mass., and lived all over the world because his father was in the Navy. Breault attended Massachusetts Military Academy, served as a Green Beret during the Vietnam War and received a degree in civil engineering from University of Massachusetts. He lived in Maine and Kentucky, but he and his wife, Mary, have called North Carolina home since 2005.
Both Breault and Allen want Riverwalk to be a family destination, and Breault adds that it’s meant for the entire region.
“On weekends the parking lot stays full. [Brunswick Riverwalk] makes a good family setting,” Allen says.
Want to go?
The Brunswick Riverwalk at Belville
575 River Rd. SE, Belville