One organization is working to connect cities and towns from Maine to Florida with protected trails.
by EILLIE ANZILOTTI | published Jun 28, 2016
From northern Maine to the tip of Florida, the East Coast of the United States stretches 3,000 miles. It’s a diverse, expansive route, cutting through wooded hills and rocky coastlines before hitting the sun-drenched beaches of the South. And all of it can be traveled by bicycle.
The East Coast Greenway Alliance has been working since 1991 to connect the whole geography of the Atlantic seaboard with protected bike paths. So far, 850 miles of trail have been designated as Greenway. The project is about 31 percent complete, says Dennis Markatos-Soriano, the executive director of ECGA. By 2020, the ECGA hopes to add another 200 miles.
As it winds down the coast, the East Coast Greenway passes through 450 communities in 15 states. Efficiency is not the point: Instead of cleaving to interstate routes, the Greenway mostly follows the rivers and old train tracks connecting the cities and towns along the coast. “Even though a pretty small percentage of the trail’s miles actually pass through cities, it’s still very much an urban story,” says the Director of Greenway Development, Eric Weis, who will be transitioning to the ECGA Advisory Board after 18 years with the Alliance this summer.
Before the East Coast Greenway was labeled, and before the Alliance was founded, many of the paths that make up sections of the Greenway today already existed. In New York, a trail follows the length of the Hudson River; in Philadelphia, the Schuylkill River trail stretches around 25 miles. They’re now Greenway-affiliated, but in the early 90s, Weis says, the ECGA founders looked at these distinct urban corridors and began to wonder: what would it take to connect them?
“We can’t get this done with a top-down approach,” Markatos-Soriano says. The Greenway cuts across federal, state, and local interests. When completed, the ECGA hopes it will serve as a viable national thoroughfare—an interstate for the health-conscious, eco-friendly age. But reaching that point, Markatos-Soriano says, will take cooperation and support at the community level. A network of ECGA regional coordinators and volunteers are working to engage local governments on the project and to secure federal and private-sector funding. There has been very little pushback: Since 2010, the Greenway’s annual budget has more than doubled from $470,000 to just under one million dollars last year. “It’s not a question of when the Greenway will get done, it’s a matter of how fast,” Markatos-Soriano says. The Greenway, he adds, is “one of those universally appealing projects.”