Wilmington leaders make proposal for Topsail to join 3,000-mile East Coast recreation route

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Officials in the Wilmington region are conducting a study of a 16-mile trail connecting towns in the Topsail area of Pender County.
Officials in the Wilmington region are conducting a study of a 16-mile trail connecting towns in the Topsail area of Pender County.

With hikers and bicyclists pushing themselves for miles on the East Coast Greenway, officials in the Wilmington area are working to make the Topsail region a part of their journeys.

The Cape Fear Council of Governments is leading a feasibility study for a proposed 16-mile corridor along N.C. 210, which will connect the communities of Hampstead, Surf City, and North Topsail Beach.

More: As state officials study strength of N.C. 210, community ponders growth north of Hampstead

If complete, it will be part of the East Coast Greenway, a 3,000-mile walking and biking route stretching from Maine to Florida.

The organization is seeking input from the public and is being assisted by the Wilmington Urban Metropolitan Organization, NC State Trails, North Carolina Department of Transportation, Surf City, the East Coast Greenway Alliance, Friends of Mountains-to-Sea Trail and Pender County.

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Tammy Proctor, director of Pender County's tourism department, said it will health and economic development opportunities for the area.

"People want to get out on these trails," she said. "We've seen an increase in trail foot traffic since COVID. People want to be outdoors. So, the timing of this is fantastic. We're excited to see the feasibility study."

In North Carolina, the route passes through Durham, Raleigh, Fayetteville and Wilmington and follows the Neuse and Cape Fear river corridors. Along with those spots, the historic coastal route extends south from Virginia on the Dismal Swamp Canal and to the North Carolina coast, linking Greenville and Jacksonville before going into Wilmington.

The Surf City Bridge on Topsail Island is one of the sections of a proposed 16-mile route to include in the East Coast Greenway.
The Surf City Bridge on Topsail Island is one of the sections of a proposed 16-mile route to include in the East Coast Greenway.

Paving a way

Officials said the proposed trail is the critical missing link in the trail and for the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, which is a 1,200 route from the Clingmans Dome on the Tennessee border to Jockey's Ridge State Park on the Outer Banks.

"People can walk the trail now, but with a feasibility study, it would be great to get people off the roads and on some paved walkways," she said.

A walker crosses the Surf City bridge, which is included in a proposal for a 16-mile route for the East Coast Greenway.
A walker crosses the Surf City bridge, which is included in a proposal for a 16-mile route for the East Coast Greenway.

While mentioning the benefits of routes such as the Appalachian Trail and Mountains-to-Sea, Proctor said the East Coast Greenway is different since the goal is to have a paved surface for walkers and bicycle traffic.

"At the same, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail and the East Coast Greenway would converge a little bit," she said. "So, both trails would get exposure and raise awareness of each other. We think it's a win-win."

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Misty LaPointe, public information officer for Surf City, said having an East Coast Greenway would be beneficial for the town.

"Having another means of transportation where people can bike and walk safely and more recreation opportunities will be huge for our area," LaPointe said. "It would change life for sure and it's something that we will definitely be excited for and anxiously waiting to happen."

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Regional officials are encouraging the public to participate in the online survey at https://publicinput.com/NC210_ECG_Study. The goal is to use the information to study potential route scenarios along roadways and off-road corridors to determine a preferred route. It will also develop cost estimates and an implementation plan.

LaPointe is anxious to see the results of the survey.

"Once it closes out and we can see what the results were, that will give us more information to get a glimpse of where we're headed,"  she said.

Reporter Chase Jordan can be reached at cjjordan@gannett.com.

This article originally appeared on Wilmington StarNews: Wilmington leaders look at Topsail to join 3,000 mile East Coast Greenway