Just off Guess Road, sits 20 acres of floodplain forest that residents can duck into for a respite from the nearby city.
The area includes the West Ellerbee Creek Trail, a paved trail that follows the creek, along with unpaved paths that meander through the wooded area.
After Steve Cohn noticed all the activity on the trail – pedestrians, dogs walkers and bicyclists – he started pushing for an extension. That push turned into a more than 10-year effort by Cohn, Larry Brockman and others who sought a greenway connection to other trails in northern Durham.
After years of efforts, the trail extension is finally in reach.
The City Council recently approved a construction contract for the 1.08 mile West Ellerbee Creek Trail extension, adding to Durham’s more than 30 miles of trails.
“My response is hallelujah,” said Cohn, 67. “And maybe I will be able to walk and ride on it while I can still walk and ride.”
After one more N.C. Department of Transportation approval, which is expected this week, the city can move forward with the construction that’s expected to take nine months and be completed by early 2018.
The trail, which will cost $2.9 million, begins at Watts Hospital-Hillandale Neighborhood’s Westover Park, which is near the intersection of Guess Road and Wagoner Street. The trail follows the creek. It goes under Interstate 85 – through an existing tunnel – and between the shopping centers with Costco and the Home Depot. It continues northwest to the intersection of Stadium Drive and Broad Street where it connects to the North/South Greenway.
“It helps connect neighborhoods and people,” said Brockman, 51, which is what these projects are all about.
On Monday night, the council approved a construction contract along with other actions to address a $705,349 shortfall in the trail’s budget that developed since the initial amount was set in 2009.
The city had previously received a $1.1 million federal grant and set aside capital improvements funds to cover the initial budget.
To cover the higher costs, the City Council transferred $346,709 from the Kelly Bryant Bridge South trail project, a trail planned to extend from the south end of the blue pedestrian bridge over the Durham Freeway that connects down to the N.C. Central University area.
The Kelly Bryant Bridge South trail project can’t move forward until early 2018, when federal funding is available for the project’s design phase. Staff is pursuing additional federal funding for the West Ellerbee Creek Trail, which if approved, would be used to replace Kelly Bryant Bridge South trail funds, said Jessica Kemp, senior construction project manager with the General Services Department.
A federal grant will cover the rest of the shortfall.
Kemp attributed the increased budget to general inflation since 2009, the current competitive bid market and additional costs incurred by contractors to meet state requirements.
Over the years, the project worked its way through a cycle that included figuring out where the trail would go through a public voting process and securing easements.
Chris Dreps, executive director of the Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association, said the new extension will open up one of the prettiest sections of the creek to the public. The project is also near The Rocks Nature Preserve, a two-acre woodland along a rocky section of Ellerbe Creek.
“For the most part, we like the project,” Dreps said. “We know it is going to have impacts, but we think the impacts will be outweighed by thousands of people getting to know the creek in ways that they never did before.”
What:The Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association will hold a celebration for its newest nature preserve, The Rocks Nature Preserve, which is near the planned West Ellerbe Creek Trail extension. The event includes a 3 p.m. hike along the future West Ellerbe Creek Trail.
When: 1-4 p.m. Sunday, April 2
Where: Park at the Central Professional Park, 2609 N Duke St. near Stadium Drive
Several expert-guided programs will showcase the property and the role it plays in protecting water quality in Durham. Here is the schedule: 1 p.m. General information; 1:15 p.m. Tour of The Rocks and its importance for the land; 2 p.m. History of The Rocks; 2:15 p.m. Tour of the creek and how The Rocks protects it; 3 p.m. Less than 1 mile hike along the future West Ellerbe Creek Trail.