Durham County

Wetlands and a boardwalk coming to downtown Durham

Plans for the South Ellerbe stormwater restoration
Plans for the South Ellerbe stormwater restoration City of Durham Public Works

Wetlands, a boardwalk and new trails are in the works near downtown Durham.

They're part of a stormwater-runoff project and future wetland park within walking distance of Durham Central Park, Duke's East Campus and the neighborhoods around them.

Visitors will be able to see the South Ellerbe stormwater restoration project along most of the block of West Trinity Avenue from North Duke Street to Washington Street. An entrance and part of the project will also be visible at the intersection of Trinity Avenue and North Duke Street.

South Ellerbe Creek is a tributary that flows into Falls Lake. The area receives rainwater runoff from two drainage basins that can include pollutants like nutrients from lawn fertilizer, sediment and litter, according to the city. The restoration will filter polluted water before it enters the creek.

The pedestrian view of the planned South Ellerbe stormwater restoration in downtown Durham. City of Durham Public Works

The 9-acre site will connect to the South Ellerbe Creek Trail and the future Durham Belt Line trail. A boardwalk and pedestrian bridge are also part of the South Ellerbe Creek stormwater restoration project.

Public input on the project called for access to nearby trails, educational signs, a boardwalk, and overlook and seating areas. Concepts plans show all those things.

The Durham Belt Line, once called the Duke Belt Line, is an abandoned downtown railroad line once used by the Duke cigarette factory that is being turned into a pedestrian and bicycle trail.

The South Ellerbe stormwater restoration design, view from the intersection of Trinity Avenue and North Duke Street. City of Durham Public Works

Demolition of the old Duke Diet & Fitness Center building on the site started this month and should be completed in July. The permitting process will take another year, the design will be finalized in fall of 2019 and then construction will run through 2020.

The Durham City Council saw the stormwater restoration design plan at a meeting this month during a larger presentation about the Upper Neuse River Basin Association.

“That picture — let’s do that, let’s make it look like that," Mayor Steve Schewel said of the design plan.

The estimated cost of the project is $8 million, not including amenities, said project manager Sandi Wilbur.

The funding will primarily come from the City of Durham Stormwater Utility Fund, Wilbur said, and they will be looking at other additional funding sources including grants and other partnerships.

Lifetime Fitness in North Raleigh installed a system of wetlands and ponds to reduce water pollution and flooding from rain runoff. Researchers from N.C. State are working with them to help develop ways to bring the concept to other businesses.

Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: 919-419-6563; @dawnbvaughan