In the not-to-distant future, University City residents may be able to hike or bike safely from UNC Charlotte to the NoDa arts district and beyond, though Charlotte's uptown, even all the way to King's Mountain in South Carolina.
That's the vision of the Carolina Thread Trail, an ongoing project to create a walking-friendly network of trails across the Carolinas from the ocean to the Appalachians.
This year, the trail has taken another quiet step forward, thanks to outdoor supply retailer REI.
REI's two Charlotte locations - one in the University City area at Northlake Mall and the other in Pineville - collected donations from customers over the holidays through the company's "Change for Change" program.
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At a Thread Trail workday earlier this month, REI presented to organizers a contribution of more than $3,700 and also bought lunch for volunteers.
The workday took place near Fort Mill, S.C., where the volunteer crew cleared 0.2 mile of trail along Sugar Creek. The work completed a mile-and-a-half stretch linking two previously separate trails near Nations Ford High School.
That section of the Thread Trail near the North Carolina-South Carolina line is the current focus, according to an REI spokesperson.
There is great potential, however, for similar sweat-equity projects in the University City in the future. Both Mecklenburg and Cabarrus counties officially support the Thread Trail project, but the local trail network has many gaps.
The good news is that several University City-area trails are ready for use now, such as the Mallard Creek Greenway. You can find a list of sections of trail open for hiking and biking, plus maps for both counties' proposed trail systems, at www.carolinathreadtrail.org.
UNCC's Urban Institute also has created a helpful interactive map of the Thread Trail system, allowing you to see details of the trail's completed segments, at ri.uncc.edu/display/explore-carolina-thread-trail.
The Urban Institute's John Chesser said many community partners are engaged in making the Thread Trail a reality, led by the Catawba Lands Conservancy. He also said other cities, such as Indianapolis and St. Louis, are involved in similar regional projects.
Already, Chesser reported, a recently added section of trail - the Ruth G. Shaw Trail on the Toby Creek Greenway - has completed an important connection, linking UNCC with the surrounding community.
As planned, the Toby Creek Greenway will continue through UNCC and follow the creek to link with Autumnwood and Newell. It will provide a link to campus, enabling residents to walk and bike to work or classes, or simply to enjoy a pleasant outing in a natural setting close to home.
Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation's greenway program and the city of Charlotte's Neighborhood and Business Services Department are each working on different aspects of the project tying into the Thread Trail.
The UNCC campus, nearby University Research Park and the wooded riparian corridor along Toby Creek appear ideal for walking trails.
Each has managed to preserve its forested landscape, even as development led to the clear-cutting of surrounding areas.
Toby Creek near Autumnwood is particularly picturesque. A state-sponsored study of local water resources took particular note of the creek's "pool-and-drop" form, finding it reminiscent of the Western North Carolina mountains.
Besides exploring trails on your own, using the Thread Trail and Urban Institute resources, you can take advantage of outdoor recreational activities that REI sponsors both close to home and throughout the region. You can find out more through its site, www.rei.com.