North Carolina Doubles Down on Trails and Outdoor Recreation

DbD President, Eric Woolridge, provides perspective on NC’s “Complete the Trails” Funding

The State’s final budget was approved and signed by Governor Cooper on November 18th, 2021. It includes $29.25M for the Complete the Trails Fund, marking the first time North Carolina has made a significant direct investment in its trails. In addition, the budget creates a state Trail Coordinator position and includes a number of earmarks for specific trail projects.

As North Carolina doubles down on outdoor recreation and connectivity through trail development across the state, Destination by Design weighs in…

“North Carolina is fortunate to have such a diverse landscape, and the planning and trail development community has been able to capitalize on this unique geography over recent decades to establish compelling regional and state trail systems, such as the Mountains to Sea Trail, Wilderness Gateway State Trail, the Overmountain Victory State Trail, and even paddle trails like the new Roanoke River State Paddle Trail.

However, each year our state trail systems and local trails compete against each other for a relatively small amount of available funding. This bill changes things in a major way.”

“It seems we have finally passed a rubicon in which the majority of leaders recognize quality of life and outdoor recreation as economic development.

It’s now about the intangibles — you have to create compelling places to live.”

Eric Woolridge, DbD President

We have NEVER seen the amount of money that we’re seeing now from the state legislature for quality of life and trail infrastructure. Quality of life, outdoor recreation and environmental protection are now major economic development themes, rather than the “tough sell” these efforts have been in the past. In this creative economy, economic development investment can no longer be tied only to a direct job created. It’s now about the intangibles — you have to create compelling places to live. Furthermore, this commitment by the legislature speaks to both the financial health of the state and to the nonpartisan commitment towards seeing a network of natural corridors that connect all of North Carolina.

The other compelling part of the budget is the state’s commitment to funding a new Trails Coordinator position. It doesn’t just take money to realize major trail projects, but also dedicated staff that can help further these initiatives each day and resolve issues related to land control, political coordination, public engagement, design, sustainability, construction, permitting, maintenance, and more. It’s an exciting time to say the least.”

A couple holds hands and walks on a wooded trail

DbD is a proud member of the Great Trails State Coalition, a broad-based group of more than 30 diverse organizations, agencies, and supporters advocating for increased state investment in all types of trails statewide – hiking, paddle, mountain bike, equestrian, and shared-use paths.

Great Trails State Coalition logo

“Trail funding in the state budget is a landmark victory. It is a job well done by everyone – from the coalition to members of the General Assembly to Governor Cooper. The citizens of North Carolina will benefit from this cooperative effort whether a trail brings them recreational opportunities, healthy lifestyle choices, a positive economic impact, or transportation options. I am proud to have been a part of this critical first step and look forward to the coalition’s work on the recurring funding still needed for all trails – state, regional, and local.”

Judge Robert C. Hunter, President of Friends of the Fonta Flora State Trail, Inc.