The sun is beginning to peak around the bend of the trail. She can see a corner of light edging above the embankment to her right. The first rays of the day turn one side of the tall green blades into a grassy gold.
The Long Branch Trail leads Teri Hutcheon Adams—better known to many as Teri of the popular “A Foodie Stays Fit” blog—through the south district of the Innovation Quarter, which today is largely open fields of opportunity, with tendrils reaching off the trail toward the Center for Design Innovation (CDI) and the research buildings clustered near First Street.
The dawn light sets a guidepost for the last stretch of her morning run, guiding her strides north along the Long Branch Trail, which winds through the entire Wake Forest Innovation Quarter past her former residence in Plant 64, all the way to the north end of the innovation district.
Even early in the morning, there are others who join her on the Long Branch Trail—bikers, runners, walkers with dogs—all part of a community being built, very intentionally, with the goal of creating a more connected city.
As she rounds a bend and goes under the Business 40 bridge, over the waving grass, the skyline of downtown quickly emerges into the sunrise, steel and glass and concrete erupting into the oasis of green space she runs through.
The urban green space provides a contrast with the city that reminds her of what the open fields will be soon: the foundations of new buildings for companies, researchers and non-profits, many inhabitants that—like her—are transplants to Winston-Salem who have adopted the city as their own.
This view of downtown Winston-Salem—one of Teri’s favorite perspectives of the city—calls her on, to finish the final hard stretches of her run. The familiar skyline reminds her of the life she has built here, her career and her community, something she hasn’t always found in other places she has lived.
“The city feels so alive and growing from this angle,” Teri says as she slows at the end of her run. “It might sound a little cheesy, but it’s like you can sense the energy of the city.” That energy she senses is generated from a city rebuilding itself—this time through creating connections across districts and neighborhoods, between organizations and individuals. Running the length of the Innovation Quarter’s spine, the Long Branch Trail is one of those connections, joining tenants of the innovation district to each other, from Inmar, Inc. in the north to CDI in the south.
Linking to other thoroughfares like the Salem Creek Connector, Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive and Rams Drive, the Long Branch Trail connects the innovation district to the larger Winston-Salem community, creating a nervous system to nourish life in its yet-undeveloped areas and foreshadowing all the growth yet to happen.
The Anatomy of a Greenway
Named after a historic neighborhood and creek that existed long before the Innovation Quarter succeeded it, the Long Branch Trail, which officially opened in April 2018, is a 1.7-mile greenway that runs the length of the Innovation Quarter. The trail was built through a partnership of Wake Forest Innovation Quarter, the City of Winston-Salem, the North Carolina Department of Transportation and the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Rail Division and designed by Stimmel Associates, a local landscape architecture and civil engineering firm.
The grade-separated trail allows pedestrians and cyclists to experience the multi-use path without having to worry about traffic and road crossings. And for runners, like Teri, who are looking for longer routes, the Long Branch Trail adds an extra benefit. The greenway links downtown Winston-Salem to the Salem Creek Greenway, which stretches all the way to Salem Lake. For cyclists and long-distance runners, the trail creates a 20-mile loop from the north end of the Innovation Quarter around Salem Lake and back.
The almost two-mile Long Branch Trail is a concrete path, marked by landscaping, pedestrian bridges and decorative paver areas at major crossing points. Some of these pavers are recycled cobblestones, reclaimed from streets around the Innovation Quarter and incorporated in other spots throughout the district, including Bailey Park. Other amenities of the trail include pedestrian benches, lighting, emergency call boxes, water fountains and bike racks.
“When Stimmel started working on Long Branch Trail in 2012, the goal was always to provide greater connectivity with the city,” says Christy Turner, a landscape architect with Stimmel Associates who helped design the trail. “We wanted to increase access to an amenity, to the universities and to the employment base downtown.”
Since the new greenway was planned with connectivity in mind, other tie-ins are possible in the future. Construction plans left options for a commuter rail line that could run alongside the greenway, for a trail expansion north of Martin Luther King, Jr. and for future connections to the multi-use path that is part of the Business 40 renovation project, which will run from Wake Forest Baptist Hospital to the Winston-Salem Strollway downtown.
The Long Branch Trail is also the site of two of the Zagster bike stations in Winston-Salem. Zagster, a bike share program, has eight stations located strategically downtown, as well as in places like Salem Lake and the Gateway YWCA.
Developing a Reputation for Wellness
The Long Branch Trail also fits into a larger, city-wide emphasis on creating wellness opportunities and improving Winston-Salem’s reputation as a pedestrian- and bike-friendly city.
“There’s a lot of trail construction going on in Winston-Salem, and our priority has been connecting the existing pieces of trail,” says Matthew Burczyk, bicycle and pedestrian coordinator for the City of Winston-Salem and the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO).
Burczyk is doing his position proud this morning, having biked to Krankies Coffee for an interview, his helmet practically filling one of the high tables in the restaurant. His passion for Winston-Salem is palpable, even amidst the background noise of clinking dishes and coffeehouse chatter.
Like Teri, Burczyk is a transplant. He relocated from Madison, Wisconsin close to 10 years ago so he could take the position he has now: working on bicycling and pedestrian transportation planning for Winston-Salem.
In his role, he facilitates projects to make the City of Arts and Innovation healthier and more accessible. These days, many of those projects include trail and greenway construction with the goal of making it easier to access downtown and other areas of the city by connecting existing greenways. Long Branch Trail was no exception.
Through its connection to the Salem Creek Greenway, the greenway links Washington Park, the Gateway YWCA, Winston-Salem State University, Salem College and UNC School of the Arts—even Salem Lake and another of the city’s latest projects, Quarry Park. Construction of Quarry Park included a two-mile-long trail that connects to the Salem Creek Greenway.
“You could get on a bike at Inmar and get to Quarry Park or Salem Lake without ever having to bike on a street,” says Burczyk.
In addition to improving access and safety, projects like the Long Branch Trail are aimed at improving the health of Winston-Salem.
“This area has traditionally been very car-centric,” Burczyk says, “But with the Innovation Quarter and the downtown re-development, more people are starting to live and work downtown, and that’s when you can really have an impact on wellness and get people to start biking and walking to work.”
By increasing the ability of walkers, runners, bikers and others to travel across a connected city, Winston-Salem can grow its reputation in the region as an ideal place to live and visit.
“Winston-Salem is working hard to become a bike- and pedestrian-friendly city,” says Burczyk. “People expect those qualities in a new city. It’s part of what they look for when they move. If we want to attract people to Winston-Salem and to live and work downtown, we need to give them the quality of life they expect.”
Contributing to a Community’s Sense of Place
The Innovation Quarter’s involvement in developing the Long Branch Trail greenway didn’t happen in a vacuum. Along with other projects like Bailey Park and soon-to-be activated spaces in and around Bailey Power Plant, the overall effort is part of a philosophy called “placemaking,” a concept many cities are adopting when it comes to planning and developing public spaces.
“Placemaking is a process in which communities are deeply involved in the shaping of public spaces,” says Nate Storring, senior program associate for the Project for Public Spaces.
The Project for Public Spaces (PPS), a non-profit located in New York City, helps communities identify how their public spaces are being used and determine how they can marshal local assets to improve the use of those public spaces.
“The benefits of public space are well-documented,” says Storring. “Public spaces can help improve walkability, food systems, recreational opportunities, and all of those, of course, in turn have benefits for health and the economy.”
He continues, “Placemaking is one of the best ways to make sure that a public space is well-used so that the benefits of public spaces translate to the community.”
Storring participates in the PPS’s partnership with the Brookings Institution on the Bass Initiative for Innovation and Placemaking. While that initiative did not write the book on innovation districts per se, it wrote the definitive report on innovation districts and their characteristics.
“Placemaking plays an important role in telling the story of an innovation district,” says Storring. “Public spaces are hubs of social activity and provide places for innovative work to come out from behind closed doors as people meet each other outside of their offices. Community programming in public spaces helps create those connections as well.”
Through his work on the Bass Initiative, Storring became familiar with Wake Forest Innovation Quarter and the placemaking activities happening in the innovation district.
“We are always on the lookout for really great examples of placemaking in innovation districts, and people who understand the value of public space, community building, programming and management as crucial ingredients for innovation,” says Storring. “The Innovation Quarter has been a great example of the things that make for good public spaces: programming and community management that reflects the character of the innovation district.”
Well-used public greenspaces like parks and greenways can provide benefits to community interaction, and the Innovation Quarter’s emphasis on green space as an important component of the innovation district can be seen through the development of Bailey Park and now the Long Branch Trail.
“Trails are a good example of how important it can be to connect different places when thinking about usage,” Storring says. “Destinations along the way are important—where might you stop and eat, rest or meet up with others?”
The Long Branch Trail offers more options for connecting institutions and neighborhoods, particularly as the Innovation Quarter continues to grow and fill in the open acreage.
Creating a Program to Build Wellness and Community
As Storring noted, the benefits of green spaces are only realized when the spaces are well-used. An integral component of developing programming that makes use of these spaces in Winston-Salem’s innovation district falls on the shoulders of Lindsey Schwab, director of community relations for Wake Forest Innovation Quarter and Wexford Science & Technology.
Schwab, who was involved with the development of Bailey Park, runs the community programming that takes place in the Innovation Quarter—a job that is expanding as new amenities like the Long Branch Trail are developed for tenants and the larger Winston-Salem community.
“When we created Bailey Park, we were very intentional in thinking about placemaking,” Schwab says. “Greenways and green spaces not only allow for more wellness programs and activities, but these spaces also help build community through programing like concerts, movies and other cultural events.”
The emphasis on green spaces here speaks to the importance of community in the Innovation Quarter. Bailey Park, which Schwab can see from her office on the top floor of Wake Forest Biotech Place, has been invaluable in drawing people into the innovation district through free events and activities, as well as just providing an opportunity for fresh air and green grass downtown.
“What makes the green spaces here so interesting is that they are designed for urban living,” says Schwab. “Plus you get this really unique view of downtown and the renovation happening in the Innovation Quarter.”
And for Schwab, the Long Branch Trail opens up new options and conversations about what kind of programming is possible for the Innovation Quarter and the larger Winston-Salem community.
“We’re really thinking about programming more holistically. It is another step toward providing outdoor programming around health and wellness, but we’re also exploring what kinds of opportunities it creates for building relationships between neighborhoods and within the entire Winston-Salem community,” says Schwab.
Possible wellness programming on Long Branch Trail includes walking groups and biking programs. Schwab and the design team hope to add more artistic elements to tie the trail into the City of Arts and Innovation, such as murals and sculptures.
“It’s an amenity for our larger community, not just the people who live or work here,” she says.
Connecting People to Community
For many members of that larger Winston-Salem community, all the intentionality put into placemaking within the Innovation Quarter and the City of Arts and Innovation is paying off. It has created an environment downtown that breeds community and connects people to each other.
As she stretches out after her run, Teri takes a look at the others sharing the trail with her. A man walking his dog around Bailey Park reminds her of the two years she lived in Plant 64. Her boxer, Maizey, loved the Long Branch Trail, too, and the walks they took there in the evenings.
Teri credits those years downtown with helping her build her own community in Winston-Salem.
“Living in the Innovation Quarter and working downtown helped me feel like I was connected to the city, and I found a lot of the things I love about this city while living downtown,” Teri says.
At one point, Teri moved to Charlotte, North Carolina for work, but quickly came back to Winston-Salem.
“It just didn’t have the same community feel,” she says.
During the—almost—10 years she has lived in Winston-Salem, Teri has built more than community. She’s also built a following. Through her “A Foodie Stays Fit” blog, which focuses on healthy lifestyle, fitness and fashion, Teri has become a leader in the local wellness community.
During her time in the City of Arts and Innovation, she has seen great changes in the wellness culture of Winston-Salem, aided by the focus on expanding trails and greenways like the Long Branch Trail.
“Through my blog, I get contacted at least once a week by people who are new to the area or considering moving, asking how I feel about the fitness or running scenes here, about good places to run, about the best yoga studios,” she says.
Teri’s personal experience reflects the goals of many city developers: to draw in a growing crowd of students and professionals through amenities like greenways and greener cities in general. Since wellness is a growing consideration for urbanites, cities that put an emphasis on developing a culture of wellness are becoming more competitive as places to live.
“If I think of the cities that I love to visit, they’re walkable, they feel safe and there is easy access to the outdoors,” says Teri. “An extensive and well-kept greenway is a huge part of those characteristics, and the Long Branch Trail is yet another reason why Winston-Salem continues to be such a wonderful place to live, work and play.”