Bicyclists, students and local officials gathered in front of the Autumn Hall Pond on Friday, Feb. 15, at 3 p.m., for a ribbon cutting ceremony commemorating the completion of the three-quarters of a mile portion of the Gary Shell Cross-City Trail.
The $435,000 project, funded in equal parts by a Wilmington parks bond and the North Carolina Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, runs from the College Acres neighborhood to Eastwood Road.
Following the ceremony, Will Weinel and Megan Young, University of North Carolina Wilmington students, said they use the trail a few times per week.
“It’s really nice for me because I skateboard,” Weinel said, adding that the trail does not have cracks like what would be found in a sidewalk.
Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo, Raiford Trask III, UNCW Chancellor Gary Miller and North Carolina Department of Transportation Secretary Tony Tata gave brief remarks before the ribbon cutting.
Saffo remembered back to the day when Gary Shell came into city chambers with the request for the trail.
“When he walked out of the office, I said, ‘He’s crazy as a loon,’” Saffo said.
Five years later, 12 of 15 miles of the trail are complete with funding from the private and public sector, along with land donations. The full trail is expected to be complete by the end of 2013.
Currently, work is being done to connect the portion of the trail past the Cameron Art Museum to Aldermen Elementary School, which involves pedestrian and signal improvements so people can walk across Shipyard Boulevard.
Many involved with the cross-city trail are also part of the comprehensive greenway plan, a collaboration between the Wilmington Metropolitan Planning Organization, the city of Wilmington and New Hanover County.
“We received over 3,600 comments on that plan, which is over 2 percent of the New Hanover County population, so that’s a significant number,” said Amy Beatty, parks and recreation superintendent for the city and program director. “Over 95 percent of people who commented said that walking and biking trails were important to our community, and close to 95 percent of respondents said that they would use greenways more often if there were more of them. … I think that we’re seeing a trend of the greenways being utilized not only for recreation purposes, but for transportation purposes and also for health and wellness.”
Mike Asselta, one of several Cape Fear Cyclists who rode the trail following the ribbon cutting, said he uses the trail one to two times per week.
“I really enjoy it,” he said. “Very peaceful, no traffic. … I wish we had some more around here.”
Asselta, a Hampstead resident, said he is on the West Pender Rail Trail Alliance, which is pushing for another trail around U.S. Highway 421.