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Business leaders back plan to expand Wilmington trails

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A new proposal aims to complete a trail network along the Christina River, starting at the Walnut Street Bridge. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

WILMINGTON – Over the past decade, the Castle and Markell trails have created miles of paved paths stretching from the C&D Canal to Wilmington’s Riverfront.

On the northern side of the city, the Northern Delaware Greenway Trail stretches along the Brandywine Creek through Alapocas, Rockwood, Bellevue and Fox Point.

But several miles between the two segments lack trails on the east side of the city, where large numbers of underprivileged Wilmingtonians have lived for generations.

Sensing an opportunity to link Delaware’s trail systems, benefit the local community and aid in workforce attraction, a number of large New Castle County employers have signed onto an effort to solve the problem.

The chief executives of CSC, Buccini/Pollin Group, Pettinaro, EDiS, Delle Donne & Associates, and CompassRed signed onto a letter to state leaders in support of the proposal last year, along with representatives from the Delaware Business Roundtable, Committee of 100, Delaware BioScience Association, Riverfront Development Corp., Rodel Foundation, Delaware Greenways and REACH Riverside, among others.

New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer, a city resident, avid bicyclist and supporter of multi-modal development, has also publicly thrown his support behind the effort known as the Wilmington Loop.

“Right now, the Wilmington Bike Loop is just a drawing on a map. It’s a vision,” he told Delaware Business Times. “Visions are important, but they don’t mean too much unless you actually do something about it.”

Meyer has engaged Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki’s office and the Delaware Department of Transportation about supporting the county in a feasibility study of the project that would build about 2 miles of trail wrapping around the western bank of the Christina River from the Walnut Street to North Market Street bridges.

Proponents note that the still-under-development Newport River Trail and a proposed connector trail to Wilmington’s Riverside community via the 12th Street Bridge could add about another 6 miles of trail, and complete a loop around the city running nearly 16 miles.

A price tag for a feasibility study hasn’t been established – though they typically run into the six figures – and Meyer said the county may investigate completing an even more preliminary review for a small sum before committing to such a study.

One of the biggest proponents of the plan is Scott Johnson, a partner at real estate firm McConnell Johnson and board member of the Kalmar Nyckel Foundation, which lies in the middle of the path proposed to be developed. An avid bicyclist who rides to work every day in Wilmington and sets off on weekly, long-range rides of 50 miles or more, Johnson quickly recognized the glaring disconnect of the trails.

“If you go down to Kirkwood Park, the river is kind of hidden behind fencing, but it’s a beautiful asset that many don’t even know is there,” he said. “I’ve seen all sorts of people up here taking advantage of the Greenway Trail, because it’s open and you can see the river. But there’s no way to look at the Christina down on the East Side and it’s a shame.”

Johnson worked with Delaware BioScience Association President Michael Fleming to develop the pitch that has been circulating in Wilmington circles in recent months. They point to the Belt Line in Atlanta and the High Line in New York City as examples that officials should try to emulate here.

Though some may have trouble envisioning hordes of commuters on bicycles, Johnson noted that an increasing number of people are choosing to forgo cars. He sees more bicyclists and those using electric bicycles or scooters today as he rides to work on the Greenway trail. A number of the tenants in his commercial buildings also ride to work and utilize showers on site, Johnson added.

“The ‘loop’ will connect thousands of jobs in our thriving bioscientific research, health care and financial sectors – both in the suburbs and city – with residents across the county. This is exactly the kind of ‘live, work, play’ community asset that employers competing in a global market for talent want to offer employees,” Fleming told DBT. “If done right, it has the potential to be a transformational, once-in-a generation investment that will further distinguish Delaware in the region and is a natural extension and connector of the amazing trail network – and cultural and historic amenities – already in place.”

Meyer agreed and noted that the Loop could help connect Wilmington’s East Side to natural resources that it has often lacked.

“I think pathways generally, across the country, have been built in whiter, wealthier areas and this is an attempt to really combat that,” he said. “We’re going to use pathways so that communities who maybe can’t afford a car or are looking for less expensive ways to get out to a job in the suburbs and back home safely and in a healthy way, can do so.”

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