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Exploring Local Greenways: Orange County Trails Loved By Young And Old

Walking a dog on Bolin Creek Trail.
Catherine Lazorko, Town of Chapel Hill

Orange County’s population may be smaller than that of its neighboring counties, but its greenways are no less loved. Chapel Hill and Carrboro both tout themselves as bike and pedestrian friendly towns, and Hillsborough has taken pains to create elaborate bicycle and walking routes throughout its downtown area that highlight dozens of historical buildings.  

Within the County, Chapel Hill has the most extensive system – there are seven greenways, four of which are paved.  In their last two town surveys, the number one request it received was “more trails,” according to Parks and Recreation assistant director Bill Webster. Webster thinks that the most popular one is probably Bolin Creek Trail, which runs through the center of Chapel Hill.

“You go there at 2:00 on a Tuesday afternoon and you’re guaranteed to see a lot of people,” he says. “It runs right through the center of town, and it’s got the greatest number of people living along it with easy access.” 

The trail has been in place since 1993, and it currently connects the Community Center with MLK Boulevard (here’s a map). Plans have been made to extend the trail beneath MLK Boulevard to Umstead Park and eventually to Carrboro, although it is not yet clear how or when that might happen. Nevertheless, the extension is highly anticipated.

“It will probably be the centerpiece of the town,” says Webster, but he’s quick to add that that might happen long after he’s gone.

The beginning of a separate Bolin Creek Trail currently exists in Carrboro, running from Estes Road to Wilson Park, and plans are in the works to extend it further.

A runner on Chapel Hill's Battle Branch Trail.
Credit Catherine Lazorko, Town of Chapel Hill
A runner on Chapel Hill's Battle Branch Trail.

Webster says one of the most notable aspects of Chapel Hill’s greenways is the variety of people that use them, both for transportation and for recreation. “A lot of older folks use the trails because it’s a nice place to walk and the grades aren’t severe. You’ll see young parents pushing strollers, people riding to work…I taught my daughter how to ride a bike on one of our greenways,” he says, which may be surprising, given that he lives in Chatham County. 

Another demographic that frequents Chapel Hill greenways is children. “When you think of commuting, most people think of adults going to work, but there is a tremendous amount of bicycle commuting by kids who go to Rashkis Elementary School,“ Webster says. “On any given day, you’ll see 50-100 bikes sitting on the bike racks there.” A quick phone call to the school confirmed that. Here’s a photo of the bike rack on Thursday morning:

Bikes at Rashkis Elementary.
Credit Melodie Kelly
Children's bikes at Rashkis Elementary.

The children use a part of the Fan Branch Trail, which runs between Southern Village and Southern Community Park. One of the next big projects slated to begin in the coming months is the installation of a tunnel beneath Culbreth Road, a step that will further the trail towards Merritt’s Pasture.

While Chapel Hill and Carrboro share a long border, there are not too many connections between the two cities via greenway, although wide shoulders and sidewalks offer safe alternative for bikers and pedestrians. Carrboro’s proposed Morgan Creek Greenway provides one connection to Chapel Hill at Smith Level Road, but the project is still in the planning stages.

Enthusiasm for trails runs high in all three municipalities. Bill Webster recognizes people’s enthusiasm for Chapel Hill’s greenways and is glad to see it. The biggest obstacles, he says, are time and money. Those aside, they’re just as anxious as everyone else to build more.

This article is the final in a series of others exploring local greenways. Your comments and feedback are welcome, either below or on our Facebook page.

Laura moved from Chattanooga to Chapel Hill in 2013 to join WUNC as a web producer. She graduated from the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in the spring of 2012 and has created radio and multimedia stories for a variety of outlets, including Marketplace, Prairie Public, and Maine Public Broadcasting. When she's not out hunting stories, you can usually find her playing the fiddle.
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