Long Branch Trail formally opened in the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter Wednesday morning with balloons, speeches, a live band and food trucks, along with cyclists cheering the chance to ride from downtown to Salem Lake and back.
Gil Rose towed his 1½-year-old daughter Everly in a trailer behind his bike as he prepared to explore the course.
“We have been on the Long Branch since it was built, but we thought we would like to be here for the opening,” Rose said. “Winston-Salem needs more of these.”
About 100 people turned out for the speeches, led off by Graydon Pleasants, who oversees real estate development for the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter.
“We are all pleased to be able to say that we are done today,” Pleasants said.
The trail starts at Martin Luther King Jr. Drive near the Ivy Avenue intersection and leads south along an old rail line through the Innovation Quarter.
Leaving the rail route south of Third Street, the new trail angles over to run alongside Research Parkway and on south past Rams Drive and the bridge over Salem Creek.
There, a connecting path links the Long Branch Trail to the existing Salem Creek Greenway.
Although the trail was already open for use, workers were busy earlier this week grooming the trail, putting out mulch around the plantings and getting ready for the grand opening.
Bicyclists are excited, said Matthew Burczyk, who handles all things biking for the Winston-Salem Transportation Department. Burczyk manned a table and gave out maps showing city bike routes.
“The connection to the Innovation Quarter is invaluable,” Burczyk said, noting that it begins the job of turning a netwo
rk of recreational paths into a transportation corridor as well. “There is a lot of excitement for being able to access downtown.”
The $10.25 million project was paid for mostly with federal grants, although the city, the N.C. Department of Transportation, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and Wexford Science and Technology also contributed.
The Long Branch Trail is a 1.7-mile paved trail for walkers, bikers and runners, and runs along the inactive Norfolk and Western Railway line through the center of the Innovation Quarter.
The trail gets its name from the Long Branch neighborhood, a black community that was bounded by what is now Research Parkway on the east, Fourth Street to the south, Patterson Avenue to the west and Seventh Street to the north.
The rail line through the area connected Winston-Salem to Roanoke, Va., in the 1880s, and moved tobacco and other products from Winston-Salem. The line was successively owned or operated by the Roanoke & Southern Railway, the Norfolk & Western and Norfolk Southern.
The N.C. Department of Transportation and the Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation acquired the line in 2006.
Dr. Julie Freischlag, the chief executive officer of Wake Forest Baptist and dean of the Wake Forest School of Medicine, told people at the ribbon-cutting that the healthy exercise people will get on the trail is an example of the healthy lifestyle the medical center wants to promote.
“What better way to see our great city than by being out on the trail and being active,” she said.
Julie White, the deputy secretary of multi-modal transportation for the N.C. Department of Transportation, highlighted how various public and private players got together to make the rail trail happen, and alluded to the “next step” that is being discussed: a streetcar that would run alongside the rail trail.
Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines said the rail trail “adds to the mosaic” of what the city is trying to do downtown.
Bicyclist Jim Campbell didn’t address the crowd, but was looking forward to a ride.
“I think it is a great project,” he said. “I am impressed by the bridges. I’ve yet to ride the trail, but as soon as this crowd thins out I will do it.”