RALEIGH — The next time you are on one of Raleigh’s greenway trails, keep an eye out for people in yellow shirts; they might help make your experience a little safer and more enjoyable.
Since August, 28 people have contributed more than 500 hours patrolling the city’s greenways through a new volunteer program. They have located two lost children and helped to alert authorities to missing street signs and graffiti along the trails.
The 81 miles of trails in the Capital Area Greenway are spread over 3,700 acres and used by thousands of people a year to run, hike and bike. The volunteer program makes the greenways safer and cleaner by increasing the number of people patrolling the trails, said volunteer coordinator Bruce Embry of the Raleigh Police Department.
Volunteers get three hours of training and are required to spend at least eight hours a month patrolling the trails. During their shifts, they are asked to keep an eye out for any suspicious behavior as well as any maintenance problems along the trails.
Embry stresses that the program was formed to head off problems. There is relatively little crime on the greenway, Embry said, but the knowledge that there are people watching should help to keep it that way.
One firm believer in the program is greenway volunteer Ed Behan, who also heads the neighborhood watch for the Hedingham neighborhood in Northeast Raleigh.
Behan enjoys the “friendly environment” on the trails and feels the program adds an extra level of safety to his neighborhood. Behan and his neighbors were concerned after a string of assaults and robberies along Durham’s American Tobacco Trail and wanted Hedingham’s trails to remain popular. (Durham started its own volunteer trail watch program in response to the crimes on the American Tobacco Trail.)
Out of the Raleigh program’s 28 volunteers, seven patrol within Hedingham, a neighborhood of nearly 2,500 homes.
For Behan, retired from a career in commercial printing, the program has two benefits: He gets to help the community and use his volunteer time to get in shape.
“It keeps me out of trouble,” he said.
Behan says he has seen an increase in the number of people using the trails since the program began, and thinks that there will be an even greater increase in the spring when the weather improves.
Raleigh’s volunteer trail program joins other initiatives that ask citizens to take responsibility for public spaces.
In September, Capital Area Transit launched its Adopt-A-Shelter program, which asks people to help maintain one of the city’s 200 bus shelters. Volunteers are asked to monitor a shelter for at least one year, CAT marketing specialist Lindsay Pennell says.
In exchange for their time, volunteers are given a plaque bearing their name and are officially recognized by the mayor at a city council meeting.
Pennell has seen a great interest during the program’s first few months, with Girl Scout troops, neighborhood groups and individuals adopting shelters.
Before the program, CAT used an outside contractor to keep track of maintenance issues in its shelters. Now, it can send the contractor to only the shelters in need of repair, saving time and money.
Adopt-A-Shelter works like the state’s older, more widely known Adopt-A-Highway program, which was launched in 1988. Participants are asked to adopt two miles of roadway for at least four years, visiting at least four times a year to pick up trash, said program manager George Kapetanakis.
The program has 120,000 volunteers across North Carolina who have adopted 12,000 miles of road, saving the state $4 million in upkeep costs.
The program seems to be popular with participants as well, said Kapetanakis, who notes one group of volunteers has been at it for 20 years.