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Future Planning: Buncombe's New Principal Planner Eyes Greenway Expansion, Increased Accessibility, & More

Increasing greenway connectivity, growing Buncombe County’s parks portfolio, bolstering accessibility, and more are in the works as part of a systemwide master plan process that officially kicks off this summer. Central to helping facilitate these goals is the County’s new Parks & Recreation Principal Planner. After an extensive search, Thomas Gull has been tapped to take on this role. Parks & Recreation Director Allison Dains says his academic and professional experience are a perfect fit. “Thomas’ work as a licensed landscape architect for private design firms and North Carolina State Parks made him stand out as our top candidate. He has worked in the private and public sector on small and large capital projects and been project manager for numerous park projects within the state,” says Allision. “He has been instrumental in leading community discussions and public meetings around criteria for greenways as related to the Open Space Bond. Thomas’ experience with project management of large-scale projects, makes him a wonderful resource for understanding how to implement a project from concept to construction.”

Thomas says he’s always wanted to live in Western North Carolina, and he’s excited for the opportunity to help guide the County’s new vision. “We are kicking off our Parks and Recreation Master Plan this year, which will really give us direction and clear steps to elevate our parks system so we can provide more equitable services and facilities to the general public,” says Thomas. “I can already see the potential here to significantly improve our park system and recreation services so that public health throughout the County improves.”

Another large part of the Principal Planner’s job is working with the Open Space Bond that includes creating evaluation criteria and project management for three greenways and passive recreation sites throughout the County. “Passive recreation lands, or nature preserves, will be a new type of park unit to Buncombe County, and we want to make sure that we get the evaluation criteria correct. I’ve seen them done really well in Wake County, so I’m excited about the prospect of adding some of these park units to Buncombe County,” explains Thomas. To learn more about passive recreation lands and greenways, see upcoming meetings, and more, visit the Open Space Bond website. Buncombe County looks forward to working with the community as we continue to make our home an amazing place to live, work, play, and visit.

Thomas has already hit the ground running by tending to existing projects while adding his expertise to long-range visioning. “I believe we can deliver exceptional recreation programming, parks with facilities that exceed industry standards for accessibility, and a world-class greenway network. To get there, we need a plan,” says Thomas. “Upon completing our Systemwide Master Plan, we will have the roadmap we need and then the real work begins. Implementing our capital improvement plan, upgrading facilities, and adding park units and greenways to our system to meet that vision.”

Thomas Gull’s professional biography

Thomas Gull was born in Raleigh and was raised in Troy, North Carolina, spending the greater part of his childhood roaming the woods of the Uwharrie National Forest. Athletics and scouting were huge influences on Thomas’ upbringing. While attending high school, he played basketball and soccer and earned the rank of Eagle Scout. Thomas returned to Raleigh to attend North Carolina State University where he earned his Bachelor of Science in Business Management, Master of Landscape Architecture, and Graduate Certificate in Geographic Information Systems.

After graduation, he started his career working for multi-disciplinary design firms in the Triangle and Triad regions of North Carolina. Thomas has worked on land development projects of all types and sizes. His portfolio of work includes college campus development, single-family residential development, office park development, converting industrial sites to mixed-use developments, green roofs on high-rises, greenway projects, and public parks. Upon earning his landscape architecture license, he generated a personal mission statement that is the center of his landscape architecture practice today: “I believe that universal access to public open spaces with thriving ecological systems plays an integral role in promoting, restoring, and maintaining public health. I aim to work with people and organizations that are guided by this same belief.” Thomas has made the very deliberate decision to concentrate his practice on public open space projects such as parks, greenways, and nature preserves.

Before joining Buncombe County, Thomas was a Park Planner II for North Carolina State Parks, working on state park master plans, updating park general management plans, generating park area plans, and site plan reviews.

Thomas loves being outdoors, backpacking, fishing, gardening, car camping with his family, Premier League Soccer, college basketball, and F1 racing. He and his wife have hiked the John Muir Trail in California and hope to return to hike it again with their children someday. He enjoys long-distance endurance challenges through the woods, having completed and DNF’d numerous ultra trail runs on the east coast.

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Updated May 05, 2023 04:27 PM
Published May 05, 2023 12:00 PM

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