American Tobacco Trail boosts East Coast Greenway project

By Todd Cohen

DURHAM, N.C. — The bridge that recently was installed over I-40 near The Streets at Southpoint connecting two segments of the American Tobacco Trail represents a key link in an effort to build a greenway system from the southernmost tip of Florida in the Gulf of Mexico through Calais, Maine, on the Canadian border.

“What we’re creating is a linear park all the way from Key West to Canada,” says Dennis Markatos-Soriano, director of the Durham-based East Coast Greenway Alliance.

Formed in 1991 by greenway leaders in Washington, D.C., New York City and Boston, the Alliance works as a “unifying and advocacy organization” to help cities and towns in 15 states and the District of Columbia acquire land, and to help states convert abandoned rail corridors for trails “that are safe and accessible to people of all ages and abilities,” Markatos-Soriano says.

The new bridge over I-40, as well as nearly four miles of paths leading up to the bridge, for example, were funded with $8 million from the city of Durham, including state and federal funds.

Nearly 20 percent of 395 miles of the the East Coast Greenway that are planned for North Carolina and will run from just northeast of Myrtle Beach, S.C., to Kerr Lake at the Virginia border have been completed.

In the Triangle, 90 percent of 75 miles of projected Greenway is expected to have beenĀ  completed in less than a year.

North Carolina also will include an alternative stretch of 390 additional miles of the East Coast Greenway running along the coast from Wilmington to the Virginia border.

The Greenway, which will serve over 45 million people living in communities it crosses, and already attracts 10 million visits a year, will serve as an “urban sister” to the Appalachian Trail that runs from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine, says Markatos-Soriano.

Operating with an annual budget of $520,000, a staff of four people working full-time and three working part-time, and offices in Durham, Philadelphia, Providence, R.I., and Leland, Fla., the Alliance counts on 20,000 supporters, including 2,100 dues-paying members and 80 donors who give $500 or more a year.

In North Carolina, the Alliance has 135 members and 1,000 people who subscribe to its monthly e-newsletter or follow its Facebook and Twitter pages.

Individual donors and members account for over 60 percent of revenues for the Alliance, while government funding accounts for nearly 10 percent, mainly to pay for guides that have been published on the segments of the Greenway that run through Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia and the District of Columbia.

Foundation support represents about 20 percent of the budget, up from 15 percent a year ago, and the Alliance also receives support from six companies, including Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina and Performance Bike in Chapel Hill.

The Alliance is about to hire a South Atlantic coordinator to help accelerate progress on the Greenway in Virginia and the Carolinas.

And on Oct. 25 and 26, it will host its fall national meeting in Raleigh, an event that will include a State of the Greenway Summit and a cross-Triangle bike ride.

“North Carolina and the Triangle are fast becoming a national greenway leader,” Markatos-Soriano says.

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