Longing for longer greenways

Last week, we talked about long-distance greenways in the state — existing and planned — associated with the East Coast Greenway. Interviews for that story touched on other long-distance trails in the planning stage across North Carolina. Today, we touch on those trails.

Carolina Thread Trail
Charlotte area

“The Carolina Thread Trail will be a mega project of rail-trails and streamside greenways in the greater Charlotte region,” Dave Connelly with N.C. Rail-Trails says.

Indeed, this is the largest and most ambitious of the long-distance greenways envisioned for the state, encompassing hundreds of miles of trails in 15 counties in the Charlotte area and spilling into South Carolina. The Thread Trail was conceived in 2005 as a way for the various municipalities in the 15-county area to keep tabs on what their neighbors were up to and focus their individual efforts on trails that could contribute to an interconnected trail network.

Go here to find a map of trails existing and planned that will make up the Carolina Thread system.

Atlantic-Seaboard Coast Line
Fayetteville to Wilmington

This project could become a part of the East Coast Greenway, linking Fayetteville with Wilmington. Spearheaded by the West Pender Rail-Trail Alliance with support from BlueCross BlueShield Foundation of North Carolina and the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, an assessment is underway evaluating the feasibility of using an 80-mile stretch of unused rail corridor between Fayetteville and Wilmington.

This rails-to-trails project is especially attractive, creating a destination greenway with significant tourism potential in economically depressed eastern North Carolina.

Learn more about this project at the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Web site.

Old Beltline Trail

This isn’t a long trail — just a couple of miles — but it’s an interesting one. This abandoned rail line in Durham once connected several tobacco plants in town. When the plants ceased needing connecting, the line closed. It played a vital role in joining the numerous tobacco plants across town, and it would also play a vital role as a pedestrian transportation corridor. And, says, Connelly, Norfolk Southern has indicated they may be willing to abandon the line.

“It goes three-quarters of the way around town,” says Connelly, “even though it’s just a couple miles in length.” Roughly, it would run from near the Amtrak station along the west edge of downtown to the east end of Elizabeth street. Using sidewalk connectors, it would link with the American Tobacco Trail a couple blocks to the south.

Atlantic & Yadkin / Bicentennial greenway
Greensboro/High Point

The Triad is on the cusp of a two-trail system that would include about 16 miles of connected trail. On the north end, the 7.5-mile Atlantic & Yadkin Greenway currently starts below Cone Boulevard and runs north-northwest past Country Park, the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park into the watershed lakes, including Bur-Mil Park. The watershed lakes area is especially popular with mountain bikers who for years have feasted on Wild Turkey, Owl’s Roost and Reedy Fork trails. Currently, the greenway ends just above Strawberry Road, but Madeleine Carey, assistant trails and greenways director with Greensboro Parks & Recreation, says it eventually will extend four miles north into Stokesdale. On the south end, she says the trail will extend into downtown Greensboro, where it will be one of four trails connecting with the Downtown Greenway, a work-in-progress that will encircle downtown Greensboro.

At roughly the midpoint of the existing Atlantic & Yadkin Greenway, at Old Battleground Avenue and Lake Brandt Road, is the northern end of the Bicentennial Greenway. Eventually, the Bicentennial Greenway, conceived in the early 1980s, will run south for 15 miles to High Point’s City Lake. At present, the trail runs 4.9 miles from its northern trailhead (including some sidewalk connectors) to Horsepen Creek Road. There’s a 2-mile gap before the trail picks up on the High Point and runs 8 miles, through and past the Piedmont Environmental Center.

Roger Bardsley is a planner with Guilford County Parks & Open Space, which is overseeing the Bicentennial Greenway. About a mile of that will be greenway along Horsepen Creek, and that stretch is close to beginning construction. The remaining mile will, by necessity be accomplished via a bike route and extra wide sidewalk along Burnt Poplar Road. Bardsley estimates the stretch of greenway along Horsepen Creek should open next summer, essentially completing the trail and creating a 22.5-mile Atlantic & Yadkin/Bicentennial network.

For the time being, it’s those kinds of connections that North Carolinians will have to rely on for its longer trail networks. North Carolina, says N.C. Rail-Trails’ Connelly, needs to undergo some fiscal attitude adjustment in order for us to start seeing the likes of, say, the 57-mile New River Trail and 34-mile Virginia Creeper Trail in Virginia.

“Someday North Carolina will have more destination trails like Virginia,” says Connelly. “We just have to pass this tipping point where we collectively realize that, if it’s OK to be spending $4 billion a year in North Carolina to treat obesity, then it should be OK to invest more than $6 million a year to provide bike-ped infrastructure.”

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Photo: The nearly completed 22-mile American Tobacco Trail running from western Wake County north into Chatham County and into downtown Durham, is North Carolina’s current standard for long greenway trails.

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