Perhaps it will come as no surprise that plans are in the works to add an additional 65 miles to the East Coast Greenway just this year alone. The proposed greenway itself is quite ambitious: a trail stretching nearly 3,000 miles from Maine to Florida.
Currently, more than a quarter of the greenway (791 miles) is on non-motorized, traffic-free trails, passing through 15 states along the coast, plus Washington, D.C. Rail-trails, such as the spectacular Down East Sunrise Trail along the northeastern coast of Maine, play a prominent role in these off-road sections. (The remainder of the greenway is comprised of temporary on-road connections between trails.)
"We want to make it virtually 100 percent trail and are going for that as quickly as possible," says Dennis Markatos-Soriano, executive director of the East Coast Greenway Alliance, the nonprofit group providing leadership and vision for the trail's creation. "We feel the urgency to move people from their cars to their bikes: the health urgency, the environmental urgency and the economic urgency."
A few dozen miles north of the greenway's gateway in Calais, Maine, lies the equally impressive Trans Canada Trail, which the Alliance is working to connect to in the coming years. From Fredericton, New Brunswick, the Trans Canada Trail stretches 9,900 miles across our northern neighbor all the way to the Pacific Ocean and on up to the Arctic Ocean. (Read more about this remarkable trail--scheduled for completion in 2017--in the Winter 2012 issue of Rails to Trails magazine.)
Markatos-Soriano doesn't have to go far for a visual reminder of the East Coast Greenway's development in recent years. Construction of a new section of the American Tobacco Trail (ATT), a designated component of the greenway, can be seen from the Alliance's headquarters in Durham, N.C. Slated for completion in summer of 2013, the 22-mile ATT, pictured above, will then serve as the backbone in a critical trail network across the Triangle region of Durham, Raleigh and Chapel Hill.
Although there are too many sites of note along such an extensive route to list them here, Markatos-Soriano says, "the greenway provides a way to experience many of the cultural wonders that the East Coast has to offer, from the Smithsonian museums in D.C. to the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia and the skyline of Manhattan, as well as the natural wonders of rivers and mountains."
This variation--the greenway is composed of more than 100 different trails--makes it almost impossible to describe.
"The riding experience on the East Coast Greenway is 'local'," says Carl Knoch, manager of trail development at RTC's Northeast Regional Office. "It goes through major metropolitan areas as well as wilderness areas, like the wonderful sections in Maine."
This local component is perhaps the key to the greenway's success, as the route goes beyond being merely a tourist attraction.
"City to city and community to community, we're creating a corridor that's useful for local citizens," says Markatos-Soriano. "There are many visionary long-distance trails, but there aren't a lot that are used as vital links to schools, work and other daily routines."
The East Coast Greenway Alliance has forged a strong partnership with the local communities along the route, and according to Markatos-Soriano this is a key to its continued success.
"We can't achieve our dreams on a national level without the people at the local level achieving their dreams as well," he says. "We move forward together."