Opinion

The Thread Trail's promise

From Ruth Shaw, chair of the governing board of the Carolina Thread Trail:

The Carolina Thread Trail, a bold vision for hundreds of miles of interconnected trails and greenways in 15 Carolinas counties, has taken me in many new directions. One was toward Europe, where our delegation visited trail systems in three regions anchored by cities comparable in size to Charlotte.

This study trip allowed our 10-member regional team to see approaches to open space preservation, trail integration and sustainable development in areas where open spaces are scarce, urban density is high, land is at a premium and gasoline prices have long been prohibitive.

We walked the Greenbelts and Regionalpark Rhein-Main of Frankfurt – a major financial center like Charlotte. Frankfurt has conserved over 30 percent of its land as open space. Its greenways, businesses, transportation, public art and leisure pursuits are seamlessly integrated to create a sustainable – and enjoyable – community.

We cycled Amsterdam's trails and conserved land that connect and carry 80,000 cycling commuters each day. We biked through busy Brussels and saw the connection from familiar urban bike lanes to outer greenway belt. We saw people benefiting from decades of planning – and persistence in executing the plan. We saw the vitality that trail access could bring to small villages and businesses.

One striking observation: Planning for greenways, trails and bike paths is “wired in” to the comprehensive planning process. The green infrastructure is taken every bit as seriously as extending sewer lines or building new roads for cars. It is not an afterthought or a “nice to have” amenity. It is a necessity, and successes have been years in the making.

Our region has its own successes with green spaces, trails and land conservation – but those successes have been spotty, rather than part of a regional, long-term vision. We have natural resources that are extraordinary – and threatened.

In the Carolina Thread Trail, we have an opportunity to create an integrated trail system to anchor a green infrastructure for our region. York County and Gaston County are already engaged in community planning processes to design their trail systems. Mecklenburg County is well down the road. All are designing portions of connecting trail that will become part of the Carolina Thread Trail and help create a new fabric of life for our region.

The trail will complement other regional initiatives of the Charlotte Regional Partnership, many chambers of commerce, the Centralina Council of Government and Catawba Regional Council of Government. The spirit of collaboration that guides Thread Trail planning will help us address many regional issues. The Carolina Thread Trail can be a catalyst for conserving and connecting our natural landscapes and our communities. This is not a “nice to have,” it is a “must do” for the livable, healthy future we all want.

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