Thinking Regionally with the Carolina Thread Trail

Today, I was one of more than 600 people who attended a luncheon to announce the launch of the Carolina Thread Trail . All the right people were there, and they heard an ambitious plan to iink 15 counties with a series of greenways and hiking trails. They also heard announcements of some serious money being donated to the cause by our favorite local corporations--Duke Energy, Bank of America, and Wachovia.
Some of this may sound familiar. The idea of a multicounty greenway system has been kicking around for years, but the recent popular sentiment mirrored that of one person at my table, who leaned over at one point to say, "I thought this thing wasn't gonna happen."
But the good people at the Foundation For the Carolinas and the Catawba Lands Conservancy got serious about this about three years ago. Now, Ruth Shaw, recently retired from Duke Energy and a force of nature on the community philanthropic front, chairs a board dedicated to the project. And at today's luncheon, Duke Energy, Bank of America, and Wachovia announced a combined donation of $14.5 million–that's huge money for three companies whose philanthropy has been spread out nationally. Altogether, the group plans to raise $40 million in private money and hopes for over $100 million in government money. And, as another luncher told me, "With Ruth Shaw on board, it's going to happen."
Here's why this is a good thing: Besides the obvious and touchy-feely benefits of having an extensive trail system that everyone can use and that preserves green space (at the luncheon, they projected that 97% of area land could be developed by 2030 if we continue at the current pace), the Carolina Trail system gets 15 counties working together, across state lines. Environmental and open-space issues are regional, if not national issues. Bad air doesn't stop at the county line. Loss of tree cover (we've lost 35% in our region the past 20 years, and 12 football fields of open space are lost every day) is not a merely a municipal issue. Everyone needs places to exercise outdoors.
The folks involved freely admit this will be a daunting challenge. They'll have to work with several different governments and hosts of private landowners to secure access. That will be like herding cats. But they're determined to make it happen, in some form or another. I'm pulling for them. Visit www.carolinathreadtrail.org to learn more.
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