My wife and I spent this summer in Durham, North Carolina. Being a college town, Durham has much to offer in the way of cultural activities, trendy restaurants, numerous shopping opportunities, and sporting events along with venues to “Keep Moving”. For example, Duke University has a cross country trail that circles the Duke University Golf Club. Called the Al Buehler Cross Country Trail, named for the long time track and field coach, it is a little over 3 miles long and runs through a beautiful wooded area with just enough hills to make it challenging. I took advantage of this trail several times throughout the summer.
The University track and field facility was open to the public for use except when the school was holding summer track and cross country camps. I mostly used this facility in the evenings and there always seemed to be adults coaching young children and high school aged kids on various running techniques such as how to properly use starting blocks, arm motion, body posture, etc.
But to me the best amenity the City of Durham and the adjoining counties of Durham, Chatham, and Wake offers its citizens is the American Tobacco Trail. I like riding on rail trails and I have ridden on many over the past 20 years. Some include the North Bend Rail Trail, the Greenbrier River Trail, and the Panhandle Trail in West Virginia, the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail in St. Petersburg, Florida, and the Montour Trail near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to name a few. I was glad for the opportunity to add the American Tobacco Trail to that list.
The American Tobacco Trail is a 22.6 mile rail trail that begins in downtown Durham near the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, home of the Durham Bulls Triple A baseball team. This abandoned rail bed was originally built for the American Tobacco Company as the New Hope Valley Railroad. It later became the Durham and SC Railroad (but never reached into South Carolina), then finally part of the Norfolk and Southern Railroad. This rail corridor was preserved in the 1980’s by the Triangle Rail-Trail Conservancy and is a wonderful multi-use trail. Starting from Durham the first 14.5 miles is a paved 10 foot wide path and the remaining portion is a hard packed crushed limestone base. This trail is now part of the East Coast Greenway which will eventually become a 3,000 mile route from northern Maine to Key West, Florida. Presently, approximately 900 miles of off-road pathways are designated as East Coast Greenway.
If you have a rail trail in your community or your community is planning for such a trail I encourage you to avail yourself of the opportunity to use an existing trail or support any planning activities. These trails offer citizens a place to ride bicycles, walk, roller blade, push strollers, even horseback riding if permitted. Rail trails can take you to areas in your community that you have never been before unless you passed through on a train. Many communities use rail trails to interpret their history and help locals and visitors understand the purpose the railroad served. In some rural communities rail trails often serve as an economic stimulus for small businesses to serve trail users. Businesses like bicycle rentals, restaurants, outfitters, and campgrounds are a few small businesses I have seen along rail trails. The economic benefits of rail trails can spread to outlying areas from trail users who stay an extra day or two to visit other nearby sites and attractions. I have been in small communities that have old train depots that have been restored to their former glory and the surrounding area transformed into a small park that hosted community celebrations and holiday events. These are little things that bring pride to a small community and it is all because of the restoration of the rail trail.
In my opinion, rail trails offer communities unique opportunities for citizens to improve their health in ways they would not do otherwise. Many people would not ride bicycles, roller blade, or jog on city streets because of vehicle traffic, but rail trails provide a safe place to exercise where the only traffic is other trail users. So if you have a rail trail near your community give it a try and “Keep Moving”.