DURHAM — About 25 runners, walkers and cyclists including two police officers joined City Councilman Steve Schewel for a five-mile jaunt on the American Tobacco Trail Tuesday.
Prompted by several recent attacks on runners using the popular trail, Schewel issued an open invitation last Friday to take the trail back with him on four consecutive Tuesday evenings.
It seemed like a good idea to get people out here to have a good time and make the trail safer, said Schewel, in red shorts and a white T-shirt. He said he runs on the trail several times every week.
There has been a lot of anxiety expressed, said cyclist Dave Austin. If we got a lot of people out here every night, we wouldnt have the problem.
Since May 17, there have been two robberies and four simple assaults on the trail, all on the section from downtown just past Fayetteville Street the section Schewel chose to run.
The incidents prompted a rush of emails to City Council members, complaining that the trail was no longer safe and urging authorities to do something about it. Police Chief Jose L. Lopez was called to report to the council twice last week and said officers have intensified patrols and surveillance.
The police are all over the trail now, Schewel said. But they cant do it all themselves.
Debra and Nelson Rizzo said they ride the trail often and came to show that we need to take it back, Debra said.
Its a fearful thing when somebody comes up behind you and hits you, she added, describing an incident that took place last week.
We hate to see somebody come and spoil it for everybody, said Nelson Rizzo.
Ive been using the trail for years, said Sioux Watson, who lives in the Forest Hills neighborhood near the location of some attacks. Ive always felt safe, but its not safe now.
One of the attack victims, Watson said, was a neighbor who bought his home so he would be near the trail.
Police have made four arrests in the trail incidents. Dumb, bored kids, said Watson.
Schewel plans to continue the Tuesday runs for three more weeks, starting at the trailhead near the American Tobacco Campus. If I had to pick one kind of physical jewel in Durham, he said, then pointed down at the trail.