Conservation helps sustain community

Ruth G. Shaw
Ruth G. Shaw

Ruth G. Shaw

The Carolina Thread Trail, a bold vision for hundreds of miles of interconnected trails and greenways in 15 Carolinas counties, has taken me in many new directions.

One unexpected direction was toward Europe, where our delegation visited trail systems in three regions anchored by cities comparable in size to Charlotte, N.C.

This study trip allowed our 10-member regional team to understand and experience approaches to open space preservation, trail integration, and sustainable development in areas where open spaces are scarce, urban density is high, land is at a premium, and gasoline prices have long been prohibitive.

Frankfurt, Germany, for example, has conserved over 30 percent of its land as open space, and its greenways, businesses, transportation, public art and leisure pursuits are seamlessly integrated with an eye toward a sustainable and enjoyable community.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands, has trails and conserved land that connect and carry 80,000 cycling commuters each day.

Everywhere we went, we saw trails in constant and varied use; reclaimed land put to adaptive and creative reuse; trails connecting cities, villages and farmland; people benefiting from decades of planning – and persistence in executing the plan; and the vitality that trail access could bring to small villages and businesses.

One striking observation: Planning for greenways, trails and bike paths is “wired in” to the comprehensive planning process.

The green infrastructure is taken every bit as seriously as extending sewer lines or building new roads for cars.

It is not an afterthought or a “nice to have” amenity. It is a necessity, and successes have been years in the making.

Our region has its own successes with green spaces, trails and land conservation – but those successes have been spotty, rather than part of a regional, long-term vision.

We have natural resources that are extraordinary – and threatened.

Now, in the Carolina Thread Trail, we have an actionable opportunity to design and execute an integrated trail system to anchor a green infrastructure for our region.

The Thread will enhance our sense of place, our sense of connection, our economic vitality – and our future.

York County, S.C., and Gaston County, N.C., are already engaged in community planning processes to design their trail systems, and Mecklenburg County, N.C., is well down the road.

All are designing portions of connecting trail that will become part of the Carolina Thread Trail and help create a new fabric of life for our region.

Ruth G. Shaw is executive advisor to the chairman, president and CEO of Duke Energy in Charlotte, N.C., and chair of the governing board of Carolina Thread Trail.

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