National Park Service joins push for Gullah Geechee greenway/blueway trail

Published: Jul. 20, 2021 at 2:55 PM EDT
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NAVASSA, N.C. (WECT) - A grassroots project to bring more attention to Gullah Geechee heritage is gaining some traction in Brunswick County as organizers gain a new partner to make it happen.

“My great-grandmother and great-granddaddy were born into this history, as well as myself,” said Carl Parker, president of Brunswick County NAACP.

Carl Parker reflected on his family’s Gullah Geechee roots — they’re descendants of West and Central Africans that were enslaved along the Southeast coast. In fact, the Gullah Geechee Corridor runs from North Carolina to Florida but you might not realize it in Brunswick County.

“It has been lost history,” said Parker. “Many folks that moved down in the area don’t know anything about Gullah Geechee.”

Parker and other organizers hope to change that through outdoor recreation.

“The greenway will allow bicycles and pedestrians to share the same space, to go back and forth safely, and also enjoy the culture and history of our area,” said Brayton Willis. “The blueway will do the same thing, just on the water.”

The trails will start in Navassa and Leland and make their way to Southport, hitting some historical spots like the Reaves Chapel and Cedar Hill Cemetery along the way. For the blueway, travelers can see old plantation land from the water where slaves used to work in rice fields.

“We’re just reenacting this lost history, making it come alive,” said Parker. “When we put the bikers’ trail in there, they’ll be able to ride that bikers’ trail and stop at different monuments that tell the history of what this is all about.”

The proposed greenway would also connect to the East Coast Greenway just across the river, stretching from Maine to Florida by cutting through Wilmington. The part of the East Coast Greenway in North Carolina is a state trail.

Although Willis has a clear vision, there’s still plenty to be done before you can put on your bike helmet or grab your paddles.

“It takes a lot of planning,” said Bill Lane, a project manager for National Park Service. “We’ve got to build a lot of public support, we’d have to meet with landowners and after that, you have to come up with the funding. We’re looking at one to two years for the vision to fully be implemented.”

Now that the National Park Service is involved, it has increased the chances of the project moving forward. Lane says the National Park Service isn’t offering funding but will help with planning the greenway and blueway projects. Representatives will be in the area in the near future to help with community meetings to nail down solid plans.

Even with a long road ahead, Willis says he’s excited to see it happen for his community. Two studies led by Rice Festival organizers and the Gullah Geechee Corridor Foundation found that ecotourism is an up-and-coming opportunity for local economies. With so many people itching to get out into a post-pandemic world,, Willis says this is the perfect opportunity for Brunswick County to take advantage of that interest.

“People are looking for outdoor activities in the fresh air,” said Willis. “This presents a great opportunity do to do that. And ecotourism, I believe, is going to be a great benefit to us here locally.”

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