For the town that pitches itself as the place for active families, there might soon be more to love in Clayton.
A plan is in the works to develop a network of trails near the Johnston-Wake County line and tying into Clayton’s Neuse River Greenway.
The Clayton Town Council has thrown its support behind the plan, which would develop a number of trails with in the Walnut Hill Preserve, about three and half miles from Clayton. The town isn’t committing any money, offering only a letter of endorsement.
The heavy lifting is coming from the Triangle Land Conservancy, which owns the land and is seeking state recreation money to build the trails.
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“Our mission is to create a healthier, more vibrant Triangle region,” Sandy Sweitzer, the Triangle Land Conservancy’s executive director, said earlier this month before the Clayton Town Council.
The group currently owns and operates six local preserves that are open to the public, and Walnut Hill will join that list in a few years. The conservancy already owns and operates the Flower Hill preserve in northeastern Johnston County.
Walnut Hill is close to the Mark’s Creek land-conservation effort slightly to the north, where the TLC has put around 2,200 acres of land into conservation.
“It’s a really great area; some people refer to it as the Umstead of the east,” Sweitzer said. “We don’t have quite all the connectivity yet to make that happen, but I think we’re moving in that direction.”
Walnut Hill is about 740 acres, of which 70 is in Johnston County. Sweitzer said the property will exist partially as meadows, some farmland, a long-leaf pine preserve and then the trail system.
“It ties into the East Coast Greenway and the Mountains-to-Sea Trail,” Sweitzer said. “You’ll be able to bike from downtown Raleigh and downtown Clayton to Walnut Hill. It’s four miles on the greenway to get from Clayton to the southern end of (Walnut Hill).”
In Clayton’s letter of support, signed by Mayor Jody McLeod, the town bills the possible connection as helping to create a more extensive regional trail network.
“By planning and developing an integrated network of trails, we can help connect over 10 miles of trail to more than 26 miles on the Neuse River Greenway, Mountains-to-Sea Trail and the Town of Clayton Greenway System,” McLeod wrote.
The 11.3 miles of trails within Walnut Hill will be built in three phases and cost about $358,000. Sweitzer said the trails grant the TLC is pursuing requires a 25-percent match, which the conservancy will meet through donated labor.
The group plans to apply for the grant by July but tempered expectations by saying the last time it won a state grant, it took a year to receive the money. Construction is not expected to start until January of next year at the earliest.