Few things get me as excited as stumbling across an area marked off with yellow tape. Not “Crime Scene” tape, but “Construction: Do Not Cross” tape, the kind that marks a greenway under construction. The kind Marcy and I found while exploring downtown Smithfield last month.
“The tape!” Marcy reminded as I pretended I didn’t see it and tried to sneak onto an in-progress pedestrian bridge spanning Buffalo Creek just before it fed into the Neuse.
The greenway in question was the Buffalo Creek Greenway, a span of 10-foot greenway that will run from the town commons downtown 2.5 miles northeast along the Neuse and Buffalo Creek to the 42-acre Smithfield Community Park (where a new $11 million aquatics facility opened at the beginning of summer). For runners, the path will have two-foot-wide crushed gravel shoulders.
“The greenway will link downtown and our population center there with the northeast part of Smithfield, where most of our growth is occurring,” Paul Embler, Smithfield’s planning director told me. “With connector trails in the neighborhood and 2.1 miles of trail in the park,” Embler added, “you could do a repeat on the trail and travel 10 miles without running into cars.” Or more importantly, them into you.
Some consider 10 miles to be the magic distance that deems a greenway a “destination,” a trail that will cause people to throw their bikes on the car and come from a distance for a visit. In the case of the Buffalo Creek Greenway, you have Smithfield Community Park — with its new 50-meter, pool 50-yard pool, indoor play pool, two indoor basketball courts, indoor walking track, walking trails and sports field complex — on one end, and downtown with a variety of attractions including the Ava Gardner Museum on the other.
And the trail won’t stop at the community park. The statewide Mountains-to-Sea Trail will connect to the Neuse in Raleigh and run downstream to the coast. From Smithfield Community Park upstream, plans are progressing to run the trail to Clayton (with a connector trail planned up Sam’s Branch to Legend’s Park and downtown Clayton). From Clayton the trail will run four miles upstream to the Wake County line, where 26 miles of greenway up to the Falls dam has been fast-tracked thanks to Federal stimulus money. Raleigh and Wake County have pledged to complete that stretch by 2012. And beyond that?
“In 10 to 15 years we could see it all linked up,” says Embler, referring to additional construction of the MST east from Falls Lake into Durham and Orange counties. “You could go all the way from Smithfield to Durham.”
The Buffalo Creek Greenway is expected to open this month.