Local News

American Tobacco Trail To Get Flowery Gift

Posted August 9, 2001

— Capitol Broadcasting Company, the parent of WRAL-TV, is giving a lot of greenery to three Triangle Counties.

Tuesday, CBC President Jim Goodmon presented city and county representatives the first of what will be 50,000 azaleas. The flowery plants will adorn the American Tobacco Trail, which winds through Wake, Chatham and Durham Counties.

Over the next five years, Capitol Broadcasting will donate 5,000 azaleas each year to help develop the trail.

Capitol Broadcasting is also establishing a $50,000 endowment which will provide for the azaleas' maintenance over a 5 year period.

Capitol Broadcasting's garden staff gives away 12,000 azaleas a year from it's greenhouse and nursery. The plants come from cuttings of the many varieties grown in the WRAL-TV gardens.

Those azaleas will grow on historic ground, because the trail was once a railroad, and the train route was the life blood of Durham in its formative years as a tobacco town. Now, the trail is on the verge of a new legacy.

From the turn of the 20th century until 1987, 23 miles of steel rail linked tobacco growers to processing plants in Durham, even running through the warehouses.

In the early 1850's farmers brought their tobacco crops to the railroad and warehouses in downtown Durham, North Carolina, for sale and to ship. The small railhead town eventually bloomed into a textile and industrial center with six rail lines. The American Tobacco Company (ATC) used three of the later rail lines until the railroad moved east towards Jordan Lake in the 1970s; the ATC eventually followed the railroads out of town, closing its Durham doors in 1987.

Today, the tobacco warehouses are empty shells waiting for new life as apartments, offices, shops and restaurants. A portion of the old rail line is now a city park, a greenway called the American Tobacco Trail.

Johnny Ford, Director of Durham Parks and Recreation, says the trail will find its way through more of the city, and not just for the sake of hikers and bikers.

"We have an old saying in the department: all of us need to play more," said Ford.

Ford sees the trails evolving further.

"Eventually, our city will be laid out so that our trails will become another part of transportation for folks to get to and from work," said Ford.

Most of the old corridor south of Durham County is not officially open to public use yet. The Department of Transportation owns the corridor. Close to $4 million in state and local money will make the trail safe for public use.

Bill Bussey, is president of the Triangle Rail Conservancy, a group that will help organize the effort to clean and repair the trail, and to fill in the gaps.

"There is a lot of demand for hikers and bikers, and also equestrians, to do longer distance trails. Greenway system trails are usually two, three and four miles long But there is nothing around here 22 miles long," said Bussey.

And some say the trail may never have happened were it not for horses.

In 1990, Leslie Kennedy and other riders saw that construction on Highway 64 would cut their trail ride in half.

"In the Triangle area, there's so few places to ride anymore," said Kennedy.

They convinced DOT and Wake County Commissioners to make it an official recreational trail.

County governments are working with adjacent land owners to protect their privacy from trail travelers. Kennedy is one of those land owners.

"The trail will be managed and patroled, and I think it's just going to be an excellent asset for the horse back riders. The mountain bikers, the hikers To have a facility like that is really exciting," said Kennedy.

The cuttings taken Tuesday will be ready to plant on the American Tobacco Trail in January of 2003.

If you would like to give the American Tobacco Trail a try, begin in Durham. The open portion of the trail starts under the East/West Expressway bridge near Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

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