The first — and only — hill on the south side of the wondrous Salem Lake Trail really isn’t all that difficult to maneuver. At roughly 50 yards in length, it’s neither steep nor particularly tall.
At times, the late fall and early winter, the sandy trail is often obscured by a layer of wet leaves hiding a series of ruts dug out by runoff. Water is going to go where water wants to go. Erosion is real, and relentless.
But if you’re willing to give the trail a shot, either on foot or two wheels, the payoff, in the form of an unobstructed view of downtown Winston-Salem, is well-worth the effort.
This time of year, Salem Lake and the city’s 27-miles of trails and greenways, is both godsend and escape. There’s only so much good cheer and family time one guy can take.
And don’t look now, but the city’s trails and greenways are set to expand again. One mile and $1 million at a time, Winston-Salem is quietly building something incredible.
Make use of it
Runners, cyclists and stroller rollers have known about the Salem Lake Trail for decades. It’s frequently touted as the city’s best recreational secret, but if you haven’t heard about — or made use of — it, that’s your fault. Some 90,000 people visit the lake each year.
The same goes for the burgeoning network of greenways and trails that feed (or lead) to the 7-mile Salem Lake Trail. You can get there from here with a little imagination and physical effort.
Foremost, of course, is the Salem Creek Greenway, a 5-mile out-and-back that winds along the creek from Marketplace Mall through Washington Park, Winston-Salem State and Reynolds Park Golf Course.
Smaller, shorter fingers of greenway have been opening for years now to add to — and accessorize — the existing network.
There’s the Brush Fork Trail, which connects to the 1.2-mile Newell-Massey Greenway that extends from Winston Lake Park to Skyland Park.
Brushy Fork opened in the summer of 2012 at a cost of $480,000. Most of that, at least 80 percent, was covered by state and federal transportation grants. (I like to think that a chunk of that came from the ungodly gas taxes we pay. It eases the pain caused by $45 fill-ups.)
“Each segment plays a critical role in the greenway system,” Councilman Dan Besse said at the Brushy Fork ribbon cutting that sweltering June morning.
Other expansions and extensions followed.
A spur connecting the Salem Creek Greenway to the 220-acre Quarry Park and Waughtown connector officially opened in 2017.
That opened up to public use and admiration what had been a closely held secret: a stunning granite mining quarry built by Vulcan Materials in the 1930s.
“Every kid in the neighborhood with a fishing pole knows about it,” said William Royston, the city’s director of Recreation and Parks in 2014. “But there are a whole lot of people who’ve lived here all their lives and have no idea this is here.”
Next up came the 1.7 miles of the Long Branch Trail, which runs from the Innovation Quarter to the Salem Creek Greenway.
Late on a well-lit July evening or on brisk, gray November Saturday, greenways allow for exercise, escape and time for contemplative reflection.
More construction ahead
The big news Monday was that the greenway system is due for another expansion, this time from the east end of Salem Lake toward Kernersville.
A 1.25 mile greenway will pass under Business 40 out past East Forsyth High School, which will push the existing stock of interconnected trails past the 20-mile mark. Other greenways connect only via open roads.
The new trail, expected to be finished in about a year after the job is bid, will cost more than $1.6 million. Most of that, the same 80 percent as in other greenway projects, will be covered by federal transportation grants.
Another piece of the puzzle, a $1 million pedestrian sidepath tying Salem Creek Trail to Forsyth Technical Community College, is slated to begin construction next year.
Obviously, that’s not free money. We’ve all paid our share already in gas and other taxes.
City officials were told in 2016 that construction of these sorts of amenities could be completed faster if we’re willing to pass bigger bonds and pay more in local taxes.
“We can’t afford to build them ourselves,” said Councilman Bob Clark back them. “We could (do so), but we would build a lot fewer of them.”
No, piecemeal and when federal dollars are on offer is better. A mile and $1 million at a time, 80 percent of it from federal dollars already paid and collected, is the way to go.
That should leave a larger share of local tax money to pay cops, fix streets so that potholes don’t swallow mini-vans, provide clean drinking water and a landfill that won’t end up a Superfund site.
Still, the news that the greenways system is slowly but surely expanding, is good to hear and something about which to look forward.
Getting outdoors is priceless whether it’s deep in the throes of summertime or on a gray November day after Thanksgiving. There’s only so much football and family time a guy can take.