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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

16 miles of trails for $50M-plus: Pender County considers joining East Coast Greenway

A feasibility study has identified preferred routes in Pender County to be included in the East Coast Greenway, a 3,000-mile route from Maine to Florida. (Courtesy Surf City)

PENDER COUNTY — Traveling by foot or cycle around hot spots in the county could soon become easier and safer for residents, as Pender County considers joining a national scenic trail.

A proposed 16 miles of additional biking and pedestrian paths could be adopted in Pender County, with connections to other popular trails and greenways statewide and across the East Coast. Funding for the multi-million-dollar project and a final design are yet to be determined.

READ MORE: Nation’s largest walking and biking trail could be coming right through Cape Fear area

The 12-foot paved multi-use path would connect Nelva Albury Park in Surf City, right at the Onslow County border, to Country Club Road in Hampstead.

The proposed segments would tie into the East Coast Greenway planned from Maine to Florida; 32% of the 3,000-mile route is complete. The Pender County portion would coincide with the Mountain to Sea Trail, stretching from Clingmans Dome on the Tennessee border to Jockey’s Ridge State Park on the North Carolina coast.

“It makes this town unique with two designated trails converging in Surf City,” town manager Kyle Breuer said during a town council work session Friday.

Town council discussed the results of the East Coast Greenway feasibility study this week. It was commissioned by the Cape Fear Council of Governments last year with a $100,000 grant; Surf City paid $1,500. McAdams was enlisted to conduct the review and released results in March.

The study includes stakeholder input from local transportation planning organizations, the county, Surf City, North Topsail Beach, North Carolina State Parks, North Carolina Department of Transportation, East Coast Greenway Alliance, and Friends of the Mountains to Sea Trail.

It details the extension into Pender County would be divided into six segments — three within Surf City’s municipal boundaries and three in the unincorporated county. Offshoot paths would join other destinations, shopping centers, beaches and trails. The paths also would further connect the tri-county region. 

The East Coast Greenway, designated as part of the state parks system in 2021, already traverses 8.5 miles in Wilmington, with the Greenfield Lake Path and Cross-City Greenway. It also incorporates 1.2 miles with the Carolina Beach Island Greenway and 0.4 miles at North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher Trail in Kure Beach.

In total, costs are estimated at more than $53 million for Pendy County’s path. Forecasted funding included baseline construction pricing, an average 35% contingency, survey and design services, right-of-way acquisition, engineering and escalated construction costs to include inflation projections for 2028.

The study reviewed property impacts, environmental concerns, community priorities, desired connectivity, traffic and accessibility to choose the preferred alignment. It touts benefits of health and well-being, reduction of carbon emissions, increased economic impact from sales revenue and job creation, and increasing accessibility for residents without vehicles.

The feasibility study indicated results from a 2018 report showed there was a $19.5 million impact from shared-use paths in North Carolina; it was generated by trail users of the state’s American Tobacco Trail, Brevard Greenway, Little Sugar Creek Greenway, and Duck Trail. The research also determined 261 jobs were created, and the trails helped reduce 53.7 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions and 686,000 of vehicle emissions.

Roughly 1,774 responses were garnered from a survey, as well as input from two public meetings. The study noted participants largely favored safer biking and walking paths along the N.C. 210 corridor, where the path is slated to be installed.

According to results from the study, seven cities that expanded their bike networks by 50% between 2007 and 2014 saw ridership double, while risks of death and serious injury were cut in half. Of Pender County residential feedback, 36% said they would use portions of the trail a few times a week, 27% said a few times a month, and 13% noted they’d access them daily.

Additional amenities would be incorporated into the trails, including lighting, wayfinding signage, and trailheads with public access. The public expressed a desire to have pet waste stations, additional recreation opportunities, and benches.

Surf City town planner Amy Kimes explained to the council the feasibility study is really a starting point to guide the design.

Obstacles for completing the trail include fast-paced development in the area and limited right-of-way and associated costs, as well as identifying funding opportunities.

The town council will consider adopting the study at its June 6 meeting, to inform budgeting decisions and funding opportunities. Kimes also said the study will show the town has vetted the proposal, received public feedback and intends to move forward with the plan.

“It’s another step to help with grant funding,” Kimes told the Surf City planning board at its May 11 meeting.

Most funding will come with a 20% to 50% local match, for which Surf City would be responsible for half. The county would be responsible for the other portion. 

Construction would occur in phases.

“We’ve worked hard on hoping to see this project come sooner rather than later,” Surf City Mayor Teresa Batts said at the meeting. “It’s an asset to all who travel down 210, from the Harris Teeter behind the apartments, to Dogwood Lakes. Trying to get down 210 on bikes is dangerous.”

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