The East Coast Greenway: Coming to a Neighborhood Near You?
BY LINDA QUEREC
Special to The Pilot
What do the local walker and the long-distance cyclist have in common?
The need for easy access to safe and pleasant paths on which to spend some enjoyable leisure time that also provide an alternative way to get "from here to there" without the need to jump in the car.
Locally, the Pinehurst Greenway Trail and the Nicks Creek Trail in Southern Pines are among several in the area that provide this opportunity for Sandhills residents. They are both short trails that meander through local neighborhoods. They are easy walking and biking paths that are great for a pleasant, short outing but are not much of a challenge for the fitness buff, nor a good way to get from one place to another.
It's a rare individual who has not heard of the Appalachian Trail, which runs through the mountains in the western part of our state, extending from Maine to Georgia.
It IS a rare individual who HAS heard of the East Coast Greenway. The two trails practically parallel one another, running all the way from Maine to Florida. They are, however, very different in accessibility, route, physical challenge and purpose.
Learn about the East Coast Greenway from Dennis Markatos-Soriano, the executive director of the East Coast Greenway Alliance, at a workshop at the Pinehurst Village Hall, 395 Magnolia Road, from 10:30 to noon Saturday, Feb. 11.
He will talk about the ECG, its current status and plans for the future, and how our local greenways can link into the ECG to become part of a much larger picture.
Mark Wagner, director of parks and recreation for the village of Pinehurst, will talk about plans for the future of the Pinehurst Village Greenway and its links to other trails.
The workshop is sponsored by the Greenway Wildlife Habitat Committee, part of the Pinehurst Conservation Commission and is open to the public free of charge.
Trail vs. Greenway
So how do the East Coast Greenway and the Appalachian Trail differ?
Markatos-Soriano is a good person to ask.
"If you have time to travel to the AT and are ready for its rustic path, you can't beat the connection with nature that a hike on the AT can provide," he says. "The ECG brings the active outdoor experience to people's front door. Our route is not only for recreation, but is also a commuter route. For instance, the top cycling commuter corridor in New York City is the Hudson River Greenway segment, which carries approximately 6,000 cyclists on an average day.
"The ECG connects more than 40 million people in ECG counties to local landmarks and the natural settings accessible by tightening one's laces or hopping on a bicycle close to their home. We work hard for our greenway segments to meet ADA accessibility so that everyone can enjoy them."
Markatos-Soriano is a wealth of information about the ECG and the East Coast Greenway Alliance, having been involved in it for a number of years. He is forthcoming about his love for the project.
"As someone who loves to walk and bicycle with family and friends in my community and in those I visit, I've been attracted to the East Coast Greenway vision for a long time," he says. "I became executive director of the organization in September 2009 and feel privileged to be making a living moving this important project forward."
Much to the surprise of those who have never heard of the East Coast Greenway, the idea is not something new, nor is the project simply just in the idea stage.
"We have a completed route from Maine to Florida that is enjoyed by millions of people within their local community and hundreds of people for long-distance touring," says Markatos-Soriano. "We aim to grow the percentage that is off-road, separated from car traffic from today's 26 percent toward 100 percent by 2030.
"Every year, we bring scores of new greenway miles online as we get closer to our goal of a full route that is accessible to people of all abilities."
The idea for the East Coast Greenway first came together in 1991, formulated mainly by advocates of local and regional trails in Boston, New York and Washington, D.C. Its initial purpose was to connect Eastern Seaboard cities.
Markatos-Soriano says that the aim was "to complete a safe, accessible route for everyone from children to seniors to walk and bicycle for both their daily commutes and recreation.
"By completing this urban sister to the Appalachian Trail, we plan to help American communities achieve health, sustainability and economic prosperity. Our vision of a route separated from car traffic from Maine to Florida has remained largely intact since the early years."
The ECG runs through all sorts of terrain on its almost 3,000-mile route between Maine and Florida. It runs through the heart of major cities, along scenic rural trails, and directly along the coast, offering ocean views.
Markatos-Soriano eagerly shares what he considers noteworthy sections of the Greenway.
"There are hundreds of noteworthy sections of the East Coast Greenway," he says. "If you have time in the summer, I recommend riding or walking some of the beautiful Eastern Trail segments in Maine.
"If winter is your best time, our biking and walking route along the Florida Keys is quite an experience. There are lovely ocean views, forest paths and marsh overlooks for nature lovers throughout the route.
"And there are historical, architectural and cultural highlights to be explored as well: from Manhattan's skyscrapers to the museums along the Washington Mall to the live oak-lined streets of Savannah."
Many People, Many Uses
The ECG is used by all kinds of people for all kinds of purposes. Markatos-Soriano has heard them all.
"We hear of every non-motorized use under the sun: from unicycling to pushing a baby stroller to long-distance bicycling to walking a dog," he says. "We have honeymoon couples and retirees who bike the whole ECG from Canada to Key West. And we also have people who focus on the ECG in their local community as a route to work and school."
Of course, long distance travelers need easy access to facilities along the route.
"As our route develops during the years ahead, more and more hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, hostels and camping sites will spring up. Today, there are several. In 2020, we anticipate several hundred," Markatos-Soriano says.
In addition to the main spine route there are many spur routes that connect to the Greenway. These include the Mountains to Sea Trail here in North Carolina and the Schuylkill River Trail in Pennsylvania.
Plans are evolving for greenways here in the Sandhills to link into the ECG.
Markatos-Soriano says the East Coast Greenway Alliance is working to facilitate this connection. "Our staff and volunteers are actively working with the cities of Wilmington and Fayetteville to complete the ECG spine. We would love to further support the feeder trail effort in the Sandhills," he says.
The East Coast Greenway Alliance is a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to completing the ECG vision by partnering with neighborhood and municipal groups all the way to the federal level.
Markatos-Soriano stresses that the ECGA does not participate in construction of greenways but serves as a facilitator and adviser to communities building greenways within the Maine to Florida corridor. They leave construction work to contractors chosen by local and state stakeholders.
"We share route standards and advice with local leaders, who then take ownership and complete their segment in a way that best fits their community," he says. "Our 15,000 members and volunteers have helped us fully map and publicize a route that is currently 26 percent off-road greenway and 74 percent on the safest roads we identified between greenway segments."
Local efforts for Greenway expansion here in the Sandhills can be enhanced by advice from the ECGA. Markatos-Soriano says they would love to help.
"While ECGA resources are limited in this tough economy, we would love to provide advice and assistance to our friends in Pinehurst and throughout the Sandhills," he says. "People in the area are welcome to become members of the East Coast Greenway Alliance, as are local businesses, foundations, and other institutions.
"Individuals can go to greenway.org and become members of the ECGA today. We need your help as a volunteer at public hearings, a writer to your elected officials, and/or a contributor to our cause to complete our 2,900-mile project over the next two decades."
Linda Querec is a local freelance writer.
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