Happy trails

April 28, 2013 

When contemplating the Neuse River Greenway, it’s impossible not to think of the grand park Raleigh has planned for the old Dorothea Dix Hospital property. Envisioned by city and state leaders, the park is seen as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the city of Raleigh to dedicate 300 acres close to downtown for the purpose of preservation of open space, wholesome enjoyment of families and a monument of sorts to just how enlightened government can be.

Now threatened by Republican legislators simply because the park deal was done by former Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue, the park really would be a mind-boggling and gratifying accomplishment with all the pressures in the Triangle to develop, develop, develop in the name of accommodating a growing population. The pressure is nowhere greater than in downtown Raleigh. But just as New York’s Central Park came about in the 1800s because of the foresight of designers and city leaders, so the Dix project was seen as recognizing the value of an oasis. The idea represents real vision (supporters call themselves quite accurately “visionaries”).

And so, too, does the Neuse River Greenway, officially opened last week as Raleigh’s longest stretch of greenway, more than 20 miles of paved trails connecting Northeast Raleigh to Johnston County. When a connector to the northern portion of the trail opens next year, people will be able to trek if they choose for more than 30 miles without hitting a major road.

The greenway connects historic farm property (Horseshoe Farm) to one park after another. There are walking trails, of course, picnic areas, wide-open spaces, trails near athletic parks, a pedestrian suspension bridge over the Neuse River.

Yes, along the way, the scenic Neuse River can guide walkers and bikers as if they were Lewis and Clark of long ago, following waterways as flowing signposts.

What a spectacular accomplishment is this.

Parks bonds approved by Raleigh and Wake County voters in 2007 made possible this $30 million trail. They may all pat themselves on the back.

We have lived these last decades in the Triangle in a whirlwind in some ways. Downtown Raleigh, almost lifeless at times and saddled with a “Fayetteville Street Mall” concept that didn’t work and froze the city’s center, came roaring back with Progress Energy development, a convention center and a new Fayetteville Street, which got things moving in more ways than one. Downtown revitalization became the city’s primary mantra.

In Durham, the American Tobacco development led by Raleigh’s Jim Goodmon was like a few hundred million dollars-worth of B12. A performing arts complex has drawn more Raleigh visitors to the Bull City in recent years than in many previous ones put together. And speaking of Bulls ... the baseball team has helped to make the downtown area AAA in more ways than one.

But the Neuse River Greenway, now there’s an accomplishment much quieter but every bit as worthy of praise. For it’s a chance to forget the whirlwind and to connect, or reconnect, with nature and all its glories. It’s an opportunity to restore one’s spirit, mind and body in the wide-open spaces, to see woodland creatures, hear the rush of the Neuse, and just to stand and be amazed by silence, only a few miles, perhaps, from an urban condo.

Around here, we may love our cities, but these miles and miles and miles of trails will remind us that we can love our country as well.

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