Final major section of the Gary Shell Cross-City Trail opens to the public is your source for free news and information in the Wilmington area.

Cross City Trail _Fotor
Ground breaking ceremony for Phase III of the Cross City Trail from December 15, 2011. Mayor Saffo can be seen speaking in the background. Photo Courtesy of New Hanover County.

After years of planning, a $35.5 million bond, and countless hours of construction, the Gary Shell Cross-City Trail opened its final major section to the public, connecting Wilmington and New Hanover County residents to 15 miles of trailway from J.E.L. Wade Park to Wrightsville Beach.

The final portion of the primarily off-road, multi-use 15-mile trail stretches 1.3 miles from John D. Barry Drive to J.E.L. Wade park and includes new sidewalks, a bike lane, new paving, and signalized crosswalks at the corner of 17th Street and John D. Barry Drive and at the 17th Street and College Road intersection. Drainage work was also completed to relieve flooding in the area, a $2.1 million project that began in December, 2013.

According to city officials, the Gary Shell Cross-City Trail is a spur in a developing city-wide trails and greenways system, which makes alternative transportation in Wilmington a safer, more convenient option for every citizen. Along with parts of the Wilmington Riverwalk and Greenfield Lake trail, the cross-city trail also encompasses a section of the East Coast Greenway—a multi-use path running all the way from Maine to Florida, creating the equivalent of an “urban Appalachian Trail.”

The trail commemorates the vision and effort of Gary Shell, the former City of Wilmington Director of Parks & Recreation and the Deputy Director of Community Services, who played a pivotal part in the creation of the trail. According to a statement from the city of Wilmington, his passion throughout his career was to improve the availability and quality of parks and recreational programs in Wilmington. City officials describe his efforts with the following passage:

“He was instrumental in the development and passing of the 2006 Parks and Greenspace Bond, a $35.5 million dollar joint bond with the County, including improvements to existing parks and facilities, purchasing of land, the development of the Cross-City Trail, the building of a softball complex and tennis complex, and securing valuable greenspace. His passionate leadership in this campaign was recognized by many as being a key factor in the successful passage of the bond.”

Gary died on May 12, 2011 after a battle with cancer.

The city also credits collaborative agreements with Cameron Company, the Cameron Art Museum, Oleander Company, Inc., UNCW and Cape Fear Commercial, along with federal stimulus funds and connections with existing or funded trail facilities for making the project possible.

For more information on the Gary Shell Cross-City Trail, you can find a trail map along with points of interest, on the city website here.

James Mieczkowski is a news reporter for Port City Daily. He can be reached at On Twitter: @mieczkowskiPCD