RALEIGH — The N.C. Museum of Art will expand its trail system next year, opening a new section of the museum park to public use.
Construction on the so-called Blue Loop should begin in September and is scheduled to be completed next spring. The paved one-mile loop will include portions of existing trails as well as two new sections.
The longest of the new sections will pass within 100 yards of a brick smokestack that is one of the few remnants of the former Polk Youth Center, a prison for young people. The last of the Polk property was transferred to the art museum after the prison closed in 1997 and has remained largely off-limits to the public since.
The other new section of trail will lead to a new platform that will overlook the museum’s pond. The platform, designed by students at N.C. State University, is under construction and should be completed next month, said Dan Gottlieb, the museum’s director of planning and design.
“With this, I think we’re building an ever increasingly attractive destination for art and recreation,” Gottlieb said.
The museum’s 164-acre park includes sculptures and other installations along a network of trails that connect to Raleigh’s greenway system. Gottlieb said the Blue Loop will provide new places and vistas for sculptures in the park.
“That’s our next big desire over these next couple of years, to really begin to amp up our sculpture program in the park,” he said.
A $400,000 grant from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina will pay for the Blue Loop. The company is also giving another $150,000 toward an endowment to support operation of the park.
Blue Cross says the new trail is a key part of a four-year, statewide initiative by the insurance company to improve health and reduce obesity-related medical costs in the state.
“Every $1 spent building biking trails and walking paths can save about $3 in medical expenses,” Blue Cross CEO Brad Wilson said in a statement.