A Beginner’s Guide to Raleigh’s Greenway System

Greenway BridgeA little over a year ago, I finally took the time to dip my feet into the extensive network of trails that make up the Capital Area Greenway System.  I’d been living in Wake Forest for eleven years at the time and though I’d heard about the trails nearby, I never really knew much about them and for some reason, the idea of taking the steps to utilize them intimidated me.  Where does one park, after all?  Are they safe?  Are they paved? Where do they go?  All I really knew was they were in various stages of completion, ran along the sewer lines, and could be vaguely seen from a spot on busy Capital Boulevard as we passed over the Neuse River at 55 miles per hour.

I’m not sure what finally prompted me to go check it out.  The only bike I had at the time was a too-small hybrid number that I’d barely ridden around the neighborhood, but one nice day in March, I threw it in the back of my old Dodge pickup and headed down Burlington Mills Road to the small, dirt patch that served as a parking lot and access point to the Neuse River Trail, and headed off.

What a shock!  The greenway is awesome and I haven’t stopped singing its praises since.   In the ensuing year-and-a-half, my husband and I have explored forty miles of the system without coming close to seeing all of it, acquired both a good hybrid bike that actually fits me and several racing bikes, utilized the trails to train for three sprint triathlons, and dragged our kids all over it as well.   Though it’s just been in the last two years that the trails have been nearly completed, I can’t believe we didn’t discover them sooner.

So, here’s the skinny:

  • What is it?  The Capital Area Greenway System is a network of 100 miles of trails, broken into 28 individual trails, many of which connect and some of which essentially encircle Raleigh.  The trails are generally bordered by wooded natural areas, but cut through suburban neighborhoods and provide access to many urban attractions including Crabtree Valley Mall, Triangle Town Center, NC State, the PNC Arena, the North Carolina Museum of Art, and Falls Lake Dam.
  • Is it safe?  In the grand scheme of things, there has been relatively little crime reported on the greenway.  Volunteers in yellow vests regularly patrol the trails and many sections are well-used.  On any given day, there are joggers, walkers, bikers, fishermen and kayakers utilizing the resources they provide.  Still, common sense dictates following basic safety guidelines.  I always carry a cell phone and identification with me, pay attention to my surroundings and though I often bike solo, I would bring along a friend if running or walking the trails.
  • How do you access the trails?  There are parking areas near many of the trail heads, and many of the trails run adjacent to city parks which have adequate parking and signage.   You can also find access points in neighborhoods that border the greenway, but these are not typically marked for obvious reasons and you have to do a little exploring and trial and error to find them.  Google Maps has the greenway network marked as well, so your phone is a good resource if you’re looking for an access point.
  • What are the rules?  No smoking, no alcohol, and no motorized vehicles on the trails. Curb your pets, which must be on a leash, and pick up your trash.  Speed limit is 10 mph.  Trails are open from dawn until dusk.  Aside from these, there is some common courtesy to be used as well.  These include keeping to your right and moving over so people can pass you, letting people know you intend to pass them (when you’re riding a bike) not blocking the trail, and keeping dogs under control and on a short leash.  A fair number of serious bikers use the trails for training but they should absolutely expect to slow down when there are people out and about since the trails are meant for everyone’s use.
  • What can I see?  You might see some large art installations, if you happen to be around the NC Museum of Art, or perhaps expansive views of Falls Lake and the rushing water at the Falls Lake Dam, an impressive sight especially after a particularly wet spell.   You’ll definitely see your share of wildlife – deer and rabbits abound.  There are plenty of wildflowers, waterways, and trees.  There’s always plenty to see along the way.
  • What are future plans for the trail?  There’s a section of the Neuse River Trail near the WRAL Soccer Complex that is not yet done.  Scheduled for completion at the end of this summer, it will connect to the Horseshoe Farm section of the trail in North Raleigh.  Once this is completed, you’ll be able to bike uninterrupted from the Falls Lake Dam all the way to Johnston County on the east side of town.  The Crabtree Creek East Trail extension is also scheduled to be complete at the end of the summer and will link the trail at Milburnie Road in the west, to Anderson Point Park in the east.  Anderson Point Park is a really pretty spot, by the way, with a myriad of flower gardens to enjoy.

As I said, I’m a huge fan of the greenway system.  The idea was conceived back in the early 1970’s by some folks who had the foresight to see that the Raleigh area was growing.  These trails take huge advantage of the mild year-round weather and incorporate a safe alternative to driving.  They’ve provided great mileage for people training for long foot races, and since Raleigh is host to hundreds of races each year, the more spots to run, the better!  Just don’t take as long as I did to check them out.   The weather’s supposed to be mostly dry tomorrow, as a matter of fact, so go!

Categories: This and That

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