A New Trail Paves the Way for Human-Powered Transit in Charlotte, North Carolina

The city of Charlotte, North Carolina is known for many things—NASCAR, the U.S. National Whitewater Center, great beer—and soon, the Queen City will be able to add an extensive greenway system to that list. The city is rapidly moving toward the completion of the Cross Charlotte Trail (XCLT), a 30-mile network of greenways that will connect neighborhoods, parks and businesses from the city of Pineville on the south end of Mecklenburg County, through the city center to the UNC Charlotte campus on the north end of the county. When it’s completed, users will be able to ride bikes, walk and run on paved greenways from one end of the city to the other. Maybe even more impressive, the Cross Charlotte Trail is part of a larger greenway project, the Carolina Thread Trail, which has a goal of creating 1,600 miles of connected paved greenway running through 15 counties in North and South Carolina. Together, the Cross Charlotte Trail and Carolina Thread Trail form one of the most ambitious greenway projects in the country.

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“Charlotte has had a greenway plan for several years, but efforts have been escalated in the last few years because the city and its partners recognize the importance of greenways,” says Bret Baronak, director of the Carolina Thread Trail. “People used to want golf courses, now they want greenways, and they want to be able to get on a trail and go for miles and miles. The longer the trail, the more people will use it.”

Currently, there are 13 miles of the Cross Charlotte Trail on the ground, and several new miles are under construction on the south side of town, with a target completion date for the entire trail set tentatively for 2020. The larger Carolina Thread Trail project is also well underway, with 260 miles of existing trails on the ground and another 130 miles of designated blueways, which are paddling routes along local rivers. REI awarded the Carolina Thread Trail a $7,500 grant to help fund reconstruction of the Nation Ford Greenway, south of town, which will eventually tie into the Cross Charlotte Trail project.

When completed, pedestrians will be able to ride bikes, walk and run on the paved greenways of the Cross Charlotte Trail from one end of the city to the other. (Photo Credit: Carolina Thread Trail)

“Partnering with the Carolina Thread Trail is such an obvious choice for REI,” says Joy Shuck, REI’s outdoor programs and outreach coordinator for the Charlotte area. “One of REI’s missions is to connect people to the outdoors and this trail is literally about connection.”

When completed, the Cross Charlotte Trail will pass by two different REI stores in the area. Schuck says REI members and employees already use sections of the existing trail to commute to work and hit destinations located along the path, from open spaces like Freedom Park to retail and dining like Blue Blaze Brewing. “This trail helps people from so many different neighborhoods get together and connect. That sort of benefit is priceless,” Shuck says.

And Banarok is betting other communities will see the benefit the greenway is bringing to Charlotte and continue to buy into the overall Carolina Thread Trail project.

“We see the Cross Charlotte Trail as the showcase in the region, the trail that helps inspire the completion of other pieces of the Carolina Thread Trail. There’s already so much momentum, with communities throughout the Carolina Thread Trail corridor working on their own greenway projects. Trail mileage breeds more trail mileage. Dirt is flying everywhere.”

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