Raleigh’s Greenway Outlook

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Initiated in 1974, Raleigh’s greenway system began as small, isolated segments. But in the last 35 years it has grown to over 63 miles. Encompassing 300 acres, the system has developed some connectivity, with several multi-mile stretches, including an 11-mile trek from Wake Medical Center to Oakview northwest of Crabtree Valley Mall. The system is not only reaching areas throughout the city, but is preparing to link with other, larger trails.

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Raleigh Public Record

The Walnut Street Greenway. Photo by John Dancy-Jones.

As a premier amenity and as a pioneering national model in urban landscapes, the greenway system provides Raleigh with a highly visible symbol of the city’s character. It may yet prove to be an essential component of our 21st century vision of transportation for our city. My favorite aspects remain the pure naturalism available to greenway users, and the strong contributions these green ribbons make to our unique relationship with the natural landscape in which our metropolis is ensconced.

The Neuse River Trail, recently approved for construction as reported here at RPR, will follow the riverside from Falls Lake Dam southward to Anderson Point, where Crabtree Creek intersects with the Neuse. The new Neuse trail is getting a little help, about half of the construction costs, from federal stimulus money to get the project underway.

This long corridor will provide the city system with a direct connection at Fall Lake to the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, which is gradually making its way across the state from Jockey’s Ridge to Clingman’s Dome. Four miles of unpaved pathway now exist at the southern end, starting at Anderson Point. This same basic stretch of river is also a canoe trail and is currently one of the most wilderness-like stretches of trail in the city. But the developments nearby are popping up fast.

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The Longstreet Greenway off Six Forks Road. Photo by John Dancy-Jones.

Smack dab in the middle of central Raleigh is the Middle Crabtree Greenway. Its eastern component, Buckeye Trail, begins at Milburnie Road, and is scheduled to extend down to Anderson Point in the future. Reaching northwest, this oldest trail in the system borders a wide range of residential and industrial sectors, crossing Raleigh Boulevard and ending in what neighbors call Raleigh Swamp – 25 acres of heron, beaver and turtle heaven inside the Beltline. Middle Crabtree proper begins here, diving under Capital Boulevard and passing through intense (and impervious) areas of commercial development before finding Kiwanis Park and then Lassiter Mill. Above the dam is a heavily wooded stretch that skirts Crabtree Valley Mall and climbs up to Oakview.

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West end of the greenway deck at Capital Boulevard. Photo by John Dancy-Jones.

Part of the initial impetus for Raleigh’s greenway program was the “strategic use of part of the city’s floodplain for an open space corridor between adjoining land uses.” The quote is from Bill Flournoy, a landscape architect out of NCSU who is called the father of North Carolina’s greenway movement in the “Greenway History” by Charles A. Flink. Northwest Raleigh has generous stretches of greenway aligned with the flood control lakes – Lynn, Shelley and others – built to protect Crabtree Valley. Almost all of the greenways follow waterways – and thus many of them literally track the sewer systems as well. But the occasional outgassing pipe is well worth the rich array of birds, diverse plants, and the occasional mammal you will see.

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Beech trees on the Buckeye Trail. Photo by John Dancy-Jones.

The ambitious outdoor campus of the NC Museum of Art features a prominent connection to the Raleigh greenway system. The beautiful pedestrian bridge over the Beltline straddles a long stretch of greenway that connects Meredith (and soon NC State) to Umstead Park, where long bridle trails and five thousand acres of classic Piedmont ecosystems constitute the crown jewel of local natural areas.

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The State Street Greenway. Photo by John Dancy-Jones.

South Raleigh’s Walnut Creek initiative offers an example of synergistic cooperation between a social cause, NCSU and the city. Partners for Environmental Justice teamed with NCSU on the wetland restoration, and Raleigh is capping off its greenway accomplishments in the area with an environmental center that will serve the community and make use of the latest architectural techniques for minimizing its ecological footprint.

The Wake County section of the American Tobacco Trail is not a part of the city system but gives Raleigh a pedestrian/bicycling connection with downtown Durham. The Tobacco Trail also links Raleigh with the East Coast Greenway, another major statewide hiking venue. Raleigh’s flagship greenway system is starting to integrate with other local systems and provide some truly exciting prospects for bikers, hikers, and conservationists. Preservation of significant, if narrow, strips of natural areas will be a legacy to future Raleigh citizens as well as a highly valuable amenity now.

Download the city’s greenway map here.

4 thoughts on “Raleigh’s Greenway Outlook

  1. The Neuse River Trail will be a continuation of and a part of the Mountains to Sea Trail.

  2. Hi John, Thanks for this excellent introduction to Raleigh’s greenway systems. In order to help promote the East Coast Greenway , I occasionally lead greenways rides in Raleigh (and the Triangle area) for the Carolina Tarwheels. All are welcome. Check out the details for May 30, 2009 at

    A great opportunity for regional greenway connections will be along the SouthEast High Speed Rail corridor. Please consider attending one of the public information sessions.

  3. Why no coverage or pictures of the greenway in southeast raleigh? Other than a 8+ year old website link?

  4. Thanks for the comments and, believe me, we will be addressing lots more specific greenway info in future columns. Arthur Kelley is correct – the Neuse River Trail will eventually extend all the way to the Johnson County line and become an important section of The Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Years ago, when I first learned of the project through NandO, the article referenced the existing trail around Falls Lake, and that had stuck in my mind. I’m not much of a biker, but bicycle enthusiasts and their organizations are crucial to the greenway movement, and I was pleased to learn more about Carolina TarWheels. I’m a bit confused by Glenwood Morris’s comment, since the lead picture and the final picture feature eastern Walnut Creek, but I look forward to sharing more about all the greenways. My best birding spot on the greenways is a deck that looks out on a large wetland nestled under the campus of the State Women’s Prison. My favorite greenway section, Buckeye Trail, is slightly north of New Bern Avenue but begins in a neighborhood regularly described in the media as “Southeast Raleigh,” whereas for me as a Raleigh native, anything north of New Bern would be Northeast Raleigh. One fascinating aspect of the greenways that I hope to address both here and at RaleighNature.com is the way the greenways are emerging as connectors of different Raleigh areas, but there’s no doubt that usage (and coverage) of the various sections has something to say about Raleigh’s mixed success in the area of supporting and protecting diverse communities.