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BY BRIAN BARTH

The beer flows freely alongside Asheville’s renewed French Broad River.

FROM THE NOVEMBER 2021 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

On a cool Friday morning back in the spring, I stood on a small pedestrian bridge overlooking a tiny stream that feeds into the French Broad River in Asheville, North Carolina. Native species including cardinal flower, joe-pye weed, trumpet creeper, rhododendron, witch hazel, serviceberry, and river birch cloaked the crystal-clear streamlet, which meandered down a series of stone-lined pools in the ravine below. Less than a decade ago, the water meandered around rusted car bodies, tires, and slabs of concrete that had been tossed there over the years, part of an old, unpermitted landfill that oozed with heavy metals and hydrocarbon pollution. At my side were Paul Mills, ASLA, and David Tuch, who designed the landscape that has brought the place back to life.

As if on cue, a groundhog appeared from a burrow under a boulder they specified. “Snake!” Mills exclaimed a few minutes later, pointing to a serpentine line squiggling through one of the pools. As he and Tuch debated the species, a second, smaller serpent squiggled by after what I presumed was its mother. “It’s a family!” I shouted.

On the flat ground above this BBC wildlife special are intoxicating gardens of native plants surrounding a boozy business: the East Coast headquarters of the New Belgium Brewing Company. Mills’s firm, Russell + Mills Studios, is based in Fort Collins, Colorado, the brewery-laden city where New Belgium was established in 1991. Looking to expand a couple of decades later, the company decided on the Appalachian city of Asheville, which has the second-highest number of breweries per capita in the United States and has been deemed the nation’s “best beer city” by seriouseats.com. (Fort Collins has merely the 11th most breweries per capita.) Russell + Mills, the rare landscape architecture firm with a reputation for designing brewery grounds—they’ve worked on a dozen to date—was hired as the lead designer for the brownfield site. Tuch’s Asheville-based firm, Equinox Environmental, collaborated on plant selection and the design of stormwater management features.

The ravine bisects the 18-acre property—a 400,000-barrel-per-year brewery lies on one side; New Belgium’s Liquid Center, a tasting room and event space, on the other—which opened to the public in 2016. It lies less than a mile from downtown Asheville in the city’s River Arts District, a place of artisans’ studios and riverside parks that have replaced the industrial landscape that once enveloped the French Broad, a long-polluted water body that borders the brewery on one side. New Belgium’s $175 million investment represents a major step toward a riverfront reclamation that has been decades in the making. (more…)

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