This article appeared in the Feb. 20, 2011 edition of The Sanford Herald
By Billy Liggett
SANFORD — When Patricia Neal first heard there would be a walking trail built near her neighborhood, she was skeptical.
“I was convinced I’d never use it,” said Neal, who not only uses the Endor Iron Furnace Greenway now, but has walked it every day for the past seven days.
“Now that I use it, I love it. I should have done it sooner,” Neal said while walking with her friends, John and Patricia Philbeck on a glorious 70-degree February day Saturday.
The trio wasn’t alone Saturday. Families with young children, families with older children, cyclists, joggers, runners, speed walkers, dog owners … a wide demographic found reason this weekend to take on the greenway, a mile-and-a-half stretch of smooth pavement running from Carbonton Road near the U.S. 1 bridge to Spring Lane and beyond toward U.S. 421.
They’re using a mostly complete first phase of the trail that one day will reach all the way to Cumnock in the northern edge of Lee County, home to the historic Endor Iron Furnace for which the trail is named.
Construction on Phase I ended in December, and location markers were added this month every fifth of a mile. The 10-foot wide trail includes paved sections, as well as soft portions for joggers. Parking is available where the trail meets the Kiwanis Park trail in a small lot off Carbonton Road. Many are also using parking in the Riverbirch Shopping Center and near the movie theater, bank and restaurant on Spring Lane along the trail’s path.
Sanford Planning Director Bob Bridwell told The Herald in December that people were using the trail as it was being constructed. Some could be seen using it even on blustery days in December and January, but now that the weather is warming up — Sanford reached a record 75 degrees on Friday, and the high Saturday was 71 — the trail is getting more traffic.
Mary Barrow of Sanford was one of those who used the trail before it was even paved back in November. She was cycling on it with her daughter Jenny on Saturday.
“It’s wonderful,” she said when asked to compare it to other greenways she’s used in the past. “We’ve been to Cary and the American Tobacco Trail, and this is just as good. It may even be better. This weekend, I’ve never seen so many people.”
Barrow said she’s longed for safe biking paths in Sanford for a while now. She typically rides Spring Lane to the greenway, then continues through Kiwanis Park and on to Chisolm Street before returning home in the Rosemount McIver neighborhood. She calls it a safe five-mile loop, made better by the Endor Trail.
“Cary’s bike routes often include neighborhood streets to connect greenways,” Barrow said. “It seems this would be an inexpensive way to extend the bike route.”
JUST THE BEGINNING
The idea for the greenway started evolving in 2002 when Lee County Parks and Recreation and the Sanford and Lee County Community Development Department began collaborating on the Lee County Parks and Open Space Initiative. The ultimate goal is for the greenway to extend to Endor Iron Furnace and return to Depot Park in downtown Sanford.
Bridwell said the next step is to secure the funding to complete the second phase (to the Endor Furnace). The Civil War-era furnace, used to produce iron for Confederate soldiers, is the centerpiece of a green-friendly state park and trail area prepped by local recreation leaders.
Leaders were set to utilize $800,000 in federal transportation money to launch the first phase of the greenway, but hit a snag when federal officials rescinded a portion, forcing Sanford to chip in with more than $170,000 drawn from city coffers.
Bridwell said the next piece of the greenway will depend on allocations from federal or state funds.
The trail is expected to follow the Big Buffalo and Little Buffalo creeks in and around Sanford. Bridwell said counties typically follow abandoned rail lines when cutting greenways, but a scarcity of unused rail lines in Lee County forced local planners to try a different route.
MORE WALKWAYS IN SANFORD
Despite the current tough economy, city planners outlined a long-term map for pedestrian paths back in November, including with it millions in proposed spending on local sidewalks and the greenway.
The still in-the-works plan is being drafted by city planners along with regional engineering firm McGill Associates, emerging from a local steering committee and community surveys of top priorities. Mike Norris of McGill Associates told City Council members in November that planners are targeting the construction of nearly 19,000 linear feet of sidewalks in the city, adding up to an estimated total bill of almost $935,000.
Norris identified large roads like Horner Boulevard, Vance Street, Carthage Street, Lee Avenue and more as top priorities. These areas combine heavy pedestrian and motorist traffic, officials said.
“It’s ambitious but yet it gives you direction for the future,” Norris said.
The plan also identified millions in spending on the greenway. The plans were met with some reluctance from City Council members at the time.
Bridwell said the plans will be phased into budget requests over the years, appearing in capital budget expenses and smoothing the way for the city to seek financial grants for various projects.
Special projects identified in the pedestrian plan included the hospital area, sidewalks around the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center and Central Carolina Community College, a multi-use trail on Carbonton Road from Carthage Street to the greenway and the streetscape on the north side of McIver Street.
THREE MILES FOR NOW
Round trip, the completed phase of the Endor Trail is about three miles … almost good enough for a 5K should a local nonprofit seek a new location for their event in the future.
While the timetable for more greenway is unclear, some in the community are pleased to have what they have for now, including John Philbeck, who was also reluctant to back a government-funded trail when he first heard about it.
“You can debate whether it’s worth it or not, but I suppose that’s the same with all projects,” Philbeck said Saturday. “As for (the greenway), I’m enjoying it, and I think people will use it. I can see it being pretty full on weekends this summer.”
Neal said she and her friends are even looking forward to the day it reaches seven miles.
“We’ll be here,” she said smiling. “We’ll even pack a lunch.”
— Herald reporters Billy Ball and Alexa Milan contributed to this report