Establishment of greenways and trails can restore natural corridors within already densely populated regions and preserve them in areas soon to be developed. This is particularly important in rapidly growing areas like the Charlotte region, which recently ranked seventh in population growth among the nation’s metro areas (US Census Bureau). Such substantial growth can be positive from an economic standpoint, but it places a very serious strain on the area’s natural resources such as water and air quality, open space and wildlife habitats. Greenways and trails provide corridors of natural areas within developed land, resulting in significant positive effects on the environmental health of the region. Some of these positive effects are outlined below. Along with these benefits, the Thread Trail will raise awareness of our special natural resources and help connect us back to nature.
Preservation of Natural Areas in the Face of Rapid Development
According to a 2007 report done by Environment North Carolina Policy and Research Center titled “Losing Our Natural Heritage: Development and Open Space Loss in North Carolina,” North Carolina’s signature woodlands, farmlands, and open spaces are disappearing at an alarming rate. The Charlotte area will lose 30 percent of its natural areas by 2027, including nearly a quarter of its forest land, the highest rate of forest loss in the state. If these trends continue, the state’s treasured natural areas will disappear as vast tracts of land are developed into urban areas in the next twenty years. It is critical that our communities band together now to help preserve natural areas for the health and sustainability of future generations.
Click here to view our region’s incredible growth since 1976 through 2030. The Open Space Protection Collaborative, led by the Catawba Lands Conservancy, commissioned UNC Charlotte’s Center for Applied GIS and the Urban Institute to develop a powerful web-based tool illustrating the loss of natural and rural landscapes in the region since 1973, and forecast future impacts of urban growth through 2030.
Improvement of Water Quality
Green space created by these natural corridors helps to mitigate storm-water runoff and encourage water table recharge. It also serves as a natural filter, trapping pollutants from urban runoff, eroding areas and agricultural lands in order to keep our water supplies healthy.
Improvement of Air Quality
Tree cover provided by trails contributes to air quality by removing substantial amounts of particulate matter and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Trails also encourage non-motorized means of transportation, which can significantly reduce air pollutants. According to the North Carolina Public Interest Research Group’s (NCPIRG) Rob Thompson, “improving air quality is particularly important because communities across North Carolina are routinely put at risk by toxic pollution linked to serious health problems. These toxic pollutants are the worst of the worst and pose tangible threats to public health that must be addressed.”
Preservation of Wildlife Habitat
Greenways, trails and conservation corridors help to preserve habitat for many plants, insects and animals that are so important and unique to this region. Conserving the natural environment that surrounds us is an important piece of the legacy that we will leave behind for our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Because of the project’s emphasis is on empowering local communities and weaving them together, the Carolina Thread Trail could be considered a “civic engagement project dressed in greenway clothes” and will help to build stronger communities in many ways. As part of Crossroads Charlotte (www.crossroadscharlotte.org), a large-scale social capital building initiative supported by Foundation For The Carolinas, the Thread Trail can help bring communities together and build trust as the trails are planned, created and used.
Provide Neighborhood and Community Connections
The Thread Trail provides connections from the greenway for adjoining neighborhoods and social centers such as schools, churches, and other community facilities. It will help to reinforce the identity of neighborhoods through greenway design by incorporating public art, recognizing local history, and creating landmark open spaces.
Improve the Social Health of Communities
As a free, accessible community asset, the Thread Trail offers opportunities for recreation and exercise to everyone, including children, youth and families who might not be able to afford them elsewhere. The trails also provide a safe place for people to experience a sense of community and create stronger social and familial ties.
Reconnect the Children of our Community with Nature
So many of our children rely on indoor activities such as video games, television and the Internet for entertainment. By preserving green spaces from development, the Thread Trail provides safe places for our children to play outside with others from surrounding communities and create awareness of each other, as well as of the natural world.
Promote Regional Thinking
As a tangible project that links people and places, the Thread Trail encourages communities, leaders and municipalities to build partnerships. It will provide a framework and “pathway” for future regional initiatives and will encourage communities to act locally while thinking regionally.