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RiverLink founder and long-time executive director Karen Cragnolin passes away

Asheville is mourning the loss of a beloved community leader.

RiverLink founder Karen Cragnolin has died.


She served as the nonprofit organization’s executive director for 30 years. Her mission to renovate dilapidated buildings in what’s now the River Arts District was met with skepticism at first, but the area soon became home to dozens of artist studios and other businesses.

“I met Karen nearly ten years ago while working here in Asheville for EPA,” said RiverLink Board Chair, Anne Keller, in a press release. “Our hearts are heavy at this news. She was an amazing person who changed the trajectory of riverside development in Asheville and championed our great, ancient river—for the benefit of the entire community. RiverLink’s Board and staff look forward to continuing her work to improve our river and impact the lives of people who live in the French Broad watershed.”


She stepped down as head of RiverLink in 2016 and had battled health problems in recent years. A park along the French Broad River, off Amboy Road, will be named in her honor.

Karen Cragnolin Park

NBW, alongside non-profit organization RiverLink, has begun the design for a 5.3 acre site located in Asheville, North Carolina along the French Broad River. 

Once a car junkyard in operation since 1952 and sitting on a concrete foundation up to eight feet in depth, the contaminated site is part of EPA’s Brownfield Program and has undergone intensive phytoremediation in recent years. The site is named after Karen Cragnolin, executive director since the non-profit’s inception in 1986.

Photo Credit: Mechy Myagi

The site and surrounding landscapes offer a rich geological and cultural history which NBW aims to cultivate and celebrate in the river park’s design. The park will serve as a jewel in the longer strand of parks adorning the edges of the French Broad River. The region, once host to a variety of semi-nomadic Native American tribes who enjoyed the river’s resources as well as the ground’s rich mica offerings, now features a multitude of breweries, festivals, art spaces, and outdoor activities—like fishing, kayaking, and tubing—that congregate around the French Broad River. Karen Cragnolin Park will unify the greenway along the French Broad and will provide Asheville locals and visitors rejuvenation, a connection to indigenous culture, and a window into the landscape’s own geological and botanical heritage.

Collaborators: RiverLink, Karen Cragnolin Park Steering Committee, Dr. Ari Ferro, Equinox Environmental, Samsel Architects, Anchor QEA


COMMUNITY, WNC Leaders, women leaders, womens history, WOMENS LIVES

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