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Johnston County backs regional trails initiative

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SMITHFIELD — Would the Triangle benefit if its counties took a regional approach to building and promoting greenways?

Chuck Flink, a leader of the year-old Triangle Trails Initiative, thinks it would.

“This is a strategy that is really bubbling up all across the United States,” he told Johnston County Commissioners at their March meeting. “We see a great rise in interest in regional greenway initiatives.”

The reasons are many, Flink said. “Quality of life — that is probably the biggest driving force,” he said, along with “economic development and the opportunity to really promote the great outdoors in these regions.”

The Triangle Trails Initiative aims to bring together 14 counties to promote greenways in the Triangle. Many have already signed on, and after Flink’s presentation, Johnston did too.

“We’re very excited about the way this is shaping up,” he said.

The initiative is in its infancy, Flink told commissioners.

It has a mission statement: “Triangle Trails is a collaboration between government, business, institutions and civic leaders to make the Research Triangle Region a national leader in greenways and trails.”

And it has a marketing tag line: “Connecting people and communities with investments that keep us active and engaged with nature and our neighborhoods.”

It also has an advisory board, and it has secured some seed money from the AJ. Fletcher Foundation. Its aims this year are to find partners in the public and private sectors, raise money for operations and hire a program manager.

For counties that sign on to the trails initiative, the benefit would most likely be technical support as they plan, design and build greenways, Flink said. “We have counties at various stages of greenway planning and development,” he said. “We don’t really have technical support in North Carolina for those types of activities, so this organization would primarily provide that technical support.”

At the Marching meeting, Flink asked commissioners to adopt a nonbinding resolution of support for the regional trails initiative. He didn’t ask for any funding.

“He caught my attention when he said he didn’t want any money,” said Tony Braswell, who joined his fellow commissioners in adopting the resolution.

In part, the resolution says Johnston County “supports the concept of working within a regional framework to plan, design, develop and link” trails and greenways. Such an approach, the resolution adds, will yield “an invaluable resource for our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”

“Many communities, agencies and trail advocates in the region have taken a lead in planning and building local trails and greenways,” the resolution notes. “Those efforts can be greatly enhanced by being connected to a larger regional network of trails.”

A network will provide many benefits, the resolution says, including “transportation, exercise, leisure, safety, accessibility, recreation, community and economic benefits.”