Saturday, June 15, 2024

Greenshoots: Outdoor enthusiasts praise support from state lawmakers

North Carolina’s spending plan for the next two years includes $54.9 million to advance trails and greenways in mostly rural areas across the Tar Heel State. That’s just what those who pushed for the Year of the Trail in North Carolina campaign wanted, says Palmer McIntyre, coordinator for the Great Trails State Coalition.

“We want to be able to see a lot more trail infrastructure come online across our state,” she adds. Dozens of state organizations, nonprofits and businesses — including N.C. State Parks, VisitNC and State Employees’ Credit Union — supported the Year of the Trail campaign. The coalition helped organize trail events and celebrations this year across the state with tie-ins for local governments and businesses.

People spend $28 billion annually on outdoor recreation in North Carolina, according to the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina. Tourism related to trails, including hiking, biking, equine or paddling, also sustains more than 160,000 North Carolina jobs, Year of the Trail organizers say.

Trail supporters contend that North Carolina lags behind other states in direct funding for projects. Most past trail funding came from federal dollars administered by local authorities. Smaller communities often didn’t receive that money, says McIntyre, who works for the Greensboro-based Piedmont Land Conservancy.

“Small towns are at a disadvantage because in order to access federal funds, small cities have to put in a 20% match. A lot of them can’t afford that,” she says.

The state’s spending plan for trails is divided three ways:

  • Allocates $25 million over two years into the Great Trails State Program. This competitive grant program, administered by the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, provides money for trail development and offers poorer counties a way to get money to access federal grants.
  • Directs $24.9 million to 12 trail and greenway projects across the state.
  • Puts $5 million into a Complete the Trail Fund, which targets trails that cross county lines in the state’s trail system. The fund is marking its 50th anniversary this year.

“It is a boost to tourism,” says McIntyre, “but it’s also a quality of life issue and making our communities just a better place to live.”

Projects that will share in the $24.9 million for specific trail and greenway projects across the state

  • $12 million to Conserving Carolina to fund development of an almost 20-mile Ecusta
    Trail between Hendersonville and Brevard.
  • $4 million to the Columbus Jobs Foundation in Columbus County for a walkway and trail project.
  • $2.5 million to Camp Grier G5 Trail Collective for trail construction and related
    improvements at the Grandfather Ranger District of Pisgah National Forest.
  • $2 million to Shelby in Cleveland County for a Rails to Trails project.
  • $2 million to Blowing Rock in Watauga County for the Middle Fork Greenway.
  • $1 million to Cleveland County Water for the Stagecoach Greenway Recreation Trail.
  • $535,000 to the Burke River Trail Association, which covers parts of Burke County.
  • $315,000 to Princeton in Johnston County for capital projects and trail construction.
  • $250,000 to West Jefferson in Ashe County for a public hiking trail on Paddy Mountain.
  • $200,000 to the Friends of the Overmountain Victory Trail, which covers 225 miles in North Carolina related to the Revolutionary War.
  • $125,000 to McAdenville for the Carolina Thread Trail.
  • $40,000 to the Dan River Basin Association for improvements or equipment at the Chinqua-Penn Walking Trail in Reidsville.

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