Staff photo by Sam Wilson
Mayor Bill Saffo, far left, unveils the Mike Alford Bridge sign on the Gary Shell Cross-City Trail with Mike Alford, third from right, and his family on Friday, Aug. 23.
An unnamed 170-foot bridge linking two major legs of the Gary Shell Cross-City Trail has been complete for more than a year. But that changed on Friday afternoon, Aug. 23, when Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo was present at a naming ceremony that honored former N.C. Department of Transportation board member Mike Alford.
“Under Mr. Alford’s guidance, the N.C. Department of Transportation achieved many things, including the acceleration of the construction of the Wilmington Bypass and securing funds for the construction of the internal roadway and parking lot at Olsen Field,” Saffo said, adding that Alford was also responsible for the NCDOT directing more than $2.5 million for the bridge construction. Overall, the state has contributed more than $4.5 million to the city-wide project.
The Gary Shell Cross-City Trail, which itself was named after a former director of the city’s parks and recreation department, will be a 15-mile greenway from Wade Park to the Heide Trask Drawbridge.
Speaking to a crowd comprised mostly of city employees, Alford thanked the mayor for his vision and the staff who had worked behind the scenes to put the plan for the bridge into motion.
“The more I learned about the cross-city trail, I realized this is not a vision, this is a real project that is going to happen,” Alford said. “Once you have enough miles that are in place, other communities have proven that it will be utilized, it will enhance mobility and it enhances not only the mobility but the vibrancy of the community it serves.”
He also pointed out the positive economic impacts that could result from the greenway, saying that those public benefits would continue to grow relative to the trail’s traffic volume.
“This adds value to the community, and it’s great for the citizenry,” he said. “It will add value to the tax base too. Those who live in proximity to this great amenity will see the value of the real estate around it improve.”
Raiford Trask III, president of Trask Land Company, also gave a brief speech, congratulating Alford and applauding him for his work as a government official.
“Mike probably has enough material on our fair region that he could write a book and a reality-based TV show solely on the Skyway Bridge meetings at the Wilmington MPO,” Trask said, referring to the planning agency’s often-contentious discussions around a proposed bridge to span the Cape Fear River.
Saffo, calling the bridge connector an important spine for the larger trail network, also said he envisions one day connecting the city’s greenway to the East Coast Trail, a planned 3,000-mile greenway that would run from Canada to Key West.
“That’s something that the staffs have been looking at,” he said in an interview before the event. “Obviously, one of our main strengths in southeast North Carolina has been tourism, and that draw of having folks that want to ride their bikes and hike along these trails brings a whole other element of tourist to this community.”