Triangle's American Tobacco Trail
There is more than a touch of irony that some of the most dedicated fitness enthusiasts in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill region of North Carolina pursue their elevated needs for oxygen on what is called the American Tobacco Trail (ATT). The 22-mile-long abandoned railroad bed once funneled the leafy green smoker’s crop from area farmlands to the American Tobacco Company’s processing plants in Durham beginning in the early 1900s.
Durham and North Carolina’s economy no longer rely so heavily on the “golden leaf.” Many of those former farmlands have been replaced by suburban subdivisions filled with athletic weekend warriors.
The ATT corridor was originally developed as the New Hope Valley Railroad. It later became the Durham and South Carolina Railroad. The creation of Lake Jordan moved parts of the trail to its current location, but it fell into disuse. Formal abandonment of the area began in the late 1970s. The tracks, ties and gravel were removed in 1983.
The existing railroad bed that once carried locomotives was preserved by the Triangle Rails to Trails Conservancy and has been progressively converted into a multi-use trail shared by hikers, bikers, runners and horseback riders. The trail starts in the north near the Durham Bulls Athletic Park and ends in the southern reaches of Wake County. Major sections of the ATT have been completed, but work remains to be done. A stretch that runs through Chatham County remains in the planning stages. Other obstacles to the ATT’s completion include the construction of a pedestrian bridge spanning Interstate 40 in Durham County.
Parking lots and restrooms are available on several sections of the trail. Groups such as the Sierra Club hold scheduled hikes along the ATT. The North Carolina RoadRunners Club sponsors the annual ATT Ten-Miler Road Race. Proceeds from the race are donated to the ongoing development and maintenance of the ATT.
Heading south from downtown Durham, almost eight miles of paved trail provide a handicapped-accessible surface for inline skating, bicycling, running or strolling. South of this section, and at the beginning of rural portions of the trail, three more miles are open to the public. The paved portions do not allow horseback riding, but crushed stone sections in Wake County and southern Durham County attract area equestrians.
Tentative schedules call for the ATT to be finished from end to end by the summer of 2010. Additional plans include connecting existing greenways in Cary, Apex and Durham to the ATT, ultimately providing Triangle residents with an intricately weaved path for a myriad of outdoor recreational opportunities.
By Patrick Jones
added: December 23, 2008
updated: January 5, 2009
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