Groups hope to convert old railroad downtown into walking, biking trail

Groups hope to convert old railroad downtown into walking, biking trail

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - It’s a “unique project with transformative potential.” That’s what a group made up of community members is calling its vision to convert the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad in downtown Wilmington into a pedestrian and bike trail.

According to Rhonda Bellamy, the executive director of the Arts Council of Wilmington and New Hanover County, UNCW arts professor Ned Irvin came to her with the idea. She said he asked about potentially applying for a SmART Initiative grant from the North Carolina Arts Council for the project deemed Wilmington Rail to Trail.

Irvin, the Wilmington Arts Council members and several private developers and business owners have been talking about the project in roundtable discussions for the past six months.

Bellamy said the railway has been out of commission for more than 50 years, and the area is overgrown and not utilized. The goal is to have the trail start at Water Street and travel up to the Love Grove community. It would pass through Cape Fear Community College’s campus as well.

The goal, Bellamy said, is to connect people to the downtown area and specifically the business district.

“The Brooklyn Arts District, as it continues to grow and attract more people living there and more businesses there, some of the property owners started to get together and realized that was an underused asset," said Ed Wolverton, president of Wilmington Downtown Incorporated. “It’s just an overgrown lot right now.”

“I think it would provide a safe pedestrian route into downtown Wilmington for many people who live on the north side of town,” Bellamy added.

The group doesn’t have a design for the trail, and Bellamy said the project is in the infancy stages. They hope to model it after similar concepts in other cities like the High Line in New York, and the Swamp Rabbit Trail in Greenville, S.C.

“This is a trend you see across the country," Wolverton said. “It’s generically called rails to trails and that’s what this is, but this group is looking to amplify that perhaps with more art and gardens and that type of thing.”

Planners hope to include local artists’ work along the trail, taking shape as sculptures and murals. Bellamy said one of her goals is also to have a performing space to engage the community.

Bellamy said she is hoping to get the community’s input as well when it comes to the trail’s design.

“The first step is going to be engaging the community to see what they would like to see developed on this land," Bellamy said. “It is a large swath of land right in the middle of the north side, so it’s our hope that north side residents and business owners would help us determine what that looks like.”

She is hoping by June to have a campaign rolled out to encourage the public to participate in the planning process.

As far as who will potentially foot the bill, the Arts Council is the “fiscal agent” for the project, according to Bellamy. The group hopes to apply for grants through the North Carolina Department of Commerce and Department of Transportation. There is no plan to ask the city for money.

Site cleanup will start on April 27. The Leadership Wilmington program and the Chamber of Commerce will lead the cleanup from 8 a.m. to noon between Third and Fifth streets.

The group went before city council Tuesday and asked for conveyance of the land in order to start envisioning the project. The request was approved.

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