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Bo Dean: Greenways -- for the economy, for us
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 4, 2009 at 1:36 p.m.
How would you like to walk or bike out your front door and get on a greenway that will take you to Maine? How about Key West? That's the vision of the East Coast Greenway - and its planned route runs right through the heart of Wilmington via the Cross-City Trail.
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The East Coast Greenway is part of a long-term vision for recreation and for transportation. Some people will travel it for a grand cross-country adventure (and visit Wilmington while they're at it). Others will use shorter sections of the trail to commute to work, to shop, and just to enjoy the outdoors.
Because greenway trails can create jobs and revamp our transportation system for the 21st century, the N.C. Coalition for Trails and Active Transportation is urging that at least $8.1 million of the transportation funds coming to North Carolina from the federal economic stimulus package be set aside for six "shovel-ready" greenway projects, including $2 million for a three-mile section of Wilmington's Cross-City Trail.
That "shovel-ready" section stretches from Shipyard Boulevard to Randall Parkway. Soon these three miles will stretch to 10 and make it possible to bike and walk to three major shopping centers, three primary schools, five city parks, UNC-Wilmington, the Cameron Art Museum, and Wrightsville Beach. And from there the trail will eventually run north to Maine and south to Key West.
Building this trail would provide immediate, much-needed jobs in construction and in manufacturing materials such as concrete, asphalt, bridges, boardwalks, signs, hand tools, and heavy equipment. In the longer term these trails will help transform our region's transportation network to meet the needs of the 21st century and provide other benefits as well. A great trail and greenway system in Wilmington can:
Improve public health - Walking is the most popular type of exercise. Research shows that people with easy access to trails and greenways are much more likely to get out and walk. Greenways are a great investment in a country with escalating health costs and rising rates of obesity from lack of exercise.
Reduce global warming and dependence on foreign oil - Every mile walked or biked rather than driven means less foreign oil used and less carbon produced.
Increase tourism - Trails and greenways can be important components of a tourist economy. A recent NC State University study found that $6.7 million spent to build bike paths and wide road shoulders on the Outer Banks has an annual economic impact of $60 million in increased tourist visits and expenditures.
Improve quality of life - People want to live near greenways and trails. Studies all over the United States show that home values are increased near greenways. Forty homes adjacent to a regional greenway in Apex, were priced $5,000 higher than the rest of the homes in the development and were the first to sell.
Seventy years ago, at a time of when America was battling the Great Depression, our leaders invested in job stimulus programs that have had a lasting impact for our country. One of the most successful and most treasured projects built at that time is the Appalachian Trail - world famous, and now hiked by more than three million people each year.
As we find ourselves in another troubling economic time, we must remember the importance of providing for both present and future.
This is a great time to invest in Wilmington's Cross City Trail and the East Coast Greenway.
Bo Dean is the chairman of Wilmington's Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee.