The Carolina Thread Trail was announced five years ago this month, the product of an audacious vision and the determination to realize it. Today in Davidson, the planned network of trails and greenways connecting communities across 15 counties in two states will complete its 100th mile of trail! And that original vision has grown as people across the region added their aspirations.
Since inception, 14 counties have completed community-based trail master plans – with accompanying approvals from 76 local jurisdictions. Communities have expanded what was originally conceived as 500 miles of trail to more than 1,400 planned miles.
Over 1,300 acres of natural lands through which The Thread winds have been conserved, largely with funding from North Carolina’s Clean Water Management Trust Fund. The Trailheads, a volunteer group with over 500 members, are helping to build and maintain trails. Communities have received $3 million in grants from the Carolina Thread Trail to plan and build trails, with matching funds from local jurisdictions.
Our region had no overall trail system five years ago, nor any thought of one. Yet it includes one of the fastest growing urban areas of the last decade, with its accompanying disappearance of green space and tree canopy. The region includes rural areas of remarkable natural beauty, and small towns whose greatest assets include their access to waterways and potential for recreational trails.
Increasingly, green space and trails are becoming the amenities most people want nearby. For health and fitness, for transportation, for connection with nature, for environmental benefits, even for economic development, trails and greenways offer an affordable, accessible solution.
How have we come this far? What next?
The progress to date has been built on the vision and generosity of the Foundation For The Carolinas, Knight Foundation, C.D. Spangler Foundation, Women’s Impact Fund, and other generous early supporters. The three lead gifts from Duke Energy, Wells Fargo and Bank of America gave the Carolina Thread Trail staying power for a long-term effort. The Catawba Lands Conservancy has played a key role as lead agency for The Thread.
In addition to financial resources, the people of our communities and their elected officials have made the difference. Their spirit of collaboration, across historic boundaries and barriers, has been remarkable. Land owners have been generous with their donations of land or rights of way.
The coming together of private and public dollars and resources is providing momentum for the long-term effort the Carolina Thread Trail requires. The essential plans are largely in place; more building and funding of trails and greenways lie ahead.
As its name suggests, the Carolina Thread Trail collaboration has indeed been able to weave communities together, just as The Thread itself will connect one destination point to another.
This is a legacy project, one that benefits us today, and one that will expand and grow for our children, grandchildren and all who follow us into this place we call home. Join us, with your time, talent or treasure. We have “miles to go before we sleep,” and “we have promises to keep.”
Philip Blumenthal is current chair and Ruth G. Shaw is the founding chair of the Carolina Thread Trail Governing Board.
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