In an era when things feel more divided than ever, it's a relief to know the Carolina Thread Trail is weaving us together. The "ribbon of green" encompasses 300 miles across 15 counties, two states, and 2.9 million people.
"We preserve green space for the benefit of all," says Bart Landess, Executive Director of the Catawba Lands Conservancy, which leads the Carolina Thread Trail initiative. "It's an effort to assure that everyone in our region has access to nature and to places of interest without the need for car travel."
In 2019, Charlotte ranked fifth in U.S. population growth and is projected to lose a quarter of its forest land by 2025. The Thread Trail is an effort to balance development with conservation and ensure that people from all socioeconomic levels have access to greenways.
Everyone Has a Voice
When the Catawba Lands Conservancy began leading the Carolina Thread Trail effort 13 years ago, they used a community conservation model to ensure that everyone had a seat at the table where decisions were made. Citizens, mayors, and town planners were included in the planning process, and there was so much enthusiasm across the board that the master plan ended up expanding to three times its original size.
It's easy to see why a network of greenways, natural trails, and blueways (water trails) would be attractive to communities and businesses alike. These features increase residential and commercial property values, create tourism and recreation opportunities, and make it easier for people to travel between communities without cars. They give children an accessible way to explore the outdoors, and they give all of us an easy way to stay active.
"The Thread Trail is a healthy living opportunity," says Bart Landess. "A brisk walk is good for both physical and mental health, and time in the natural world is a great benefit to mental health, even if you just sit and enjoy it."
The experts agree: being outside and active is good for our minds and our bodies. A landmark report by the U.S. Surgeon General states that a regular regimen of walking or bicycling reduces our risk of developing coronary heart disease, hypertension, colon cancer, and diabetes. In response to an alarming increase in overweight children, the American Academy of Pediatrics highlighted the importance of designing communities that allow for physical activity to be a part of kids' daily lives.
The Carolina Thread Trail not only helps us get fresh air; it also makes that air fresher. Every time someone travels on a greenway or a trail instead of a car or bus, they're contributing to cleaner air. Plus, ensuring that our communities have preserved areas of dense trees helps filter pollutants out of the air.
Getting outside is good for our mental health, too. Studies have shown that time in nature helps ease depression, lowers stress, improves memory function, and increases creativity and problem-solving skills.
The COVID Factor
This year, people have nearly doubled their trail use in Mecklenburg County. Outdoor spaces like the Carolina Thread Trail have given us a chance to leave our homes without risking exposure to the coronavirus. For many, it's been part of our quarantine survival kit.
The Catawba Lands Conservancy chose to suspend volunteer activity during the pandemic, which means those trails that are being used twice as much are not getting as much TLC as they used to. Staff continues working hard to keep trails open, and hopes to bring volunteer workdays back soon. The Carolina Thread Trail is also a work in progress, and the community can play an active role in keeping that work going. When complete, the Thread Trail will be nearly 1,600 miles of trail connecting 88 municipalities and 85,000 acres of green space.
Your donation, or your gift of an item from the Thread Trail Wish List, will make a huge difference in the effort to keep the Thread Trail growing and thriving in our communities. Learn about all the ways to help here.
VOTE NOW: Carolina Thread Trail is in the running to win $5K this month thanks to the Amy and Brian France Foundation who have partnered with SHARE Charlotte for this year’s Spotlight Series and YOU can help when you VOTE NOW! You can also check out the other organizations eligible to win this month’s prize, here!
Grace Kennedy is a Huntersville-based writer specializing in storytelling for nonprofits. Learn more at gracekennedy.net.