COROLLA — The newly completed Corolla Greenway offers hikers and cyclists a glimpse of almost everything the Outer Banks resort has to offer in a three-mile round trip. A sandy footpath to the beach, a maritime forest, a gorgeous view of the sound, shopping and dining, and popular tourist attractions are all accessible via the walkway.
The mostly paved path with boardwalk crossings over wetlands runs parallel to N.C. Highway 12 starting at Heritage Park and running to the northern beach access road. The 10-foot-wide path means no one has to drive cars to access a wide range of natural and cultural sites, said Currituck Senior Planner Holly White.
The 1.5-mile Corolla Greenway has been Currituck’s three-year project to make the resort more pedestrian friendly. Work on the $1.3 million project began in 2009 and part of the walkway opened a year later. Now the path’s final leg to the beach is awaiting its official opening this spring although visitors and residents are already using it.
“The community seems to enjoy it,” she said.
The path blends with the natural landscape with plantings of American beach grass, yaupon holly, wax myrtles and live oaks. Planners even altered the walkway’s design to save a live oak or wax myrtle that had been in its path, noted White. The project involved working with residents and property owners associations to design a plan that fit the community, she said.
A “pocket park” with gazebo, picnic pavilions, bike racks, and water fountains, even a small one for dogs, is located near the halfway mark. The ground is covered with crushed granite or other pervious materials to aid storm water drainage. Other small rest areas with benches also dot the path.
The Corolla Greenway begins at Heritage Park where parking and a bike rack are available for day-trippers and vacationers, whatever the season. The 39-acre Heritage Park is a likely first stop or end stop to any excursion. Its view of the sound, the Currituck Lighthouse, the historic Whalehead Club and the Outer Banks Wildlife Education Center, and public rest rooms are easily accessible. A shopping center and restaurants await across the street on N.C. Highway 12.
“I don’t know anywhere else on the beach where you have ... so many resources so centrally located,” said White. “(The greenway) is like a backbone connecting all the resources together.”
From Heritage Park, walkers and cyclists can take a detour into the Historic Corolla Village or keep going north past some wildlife observation platforms toward the North Carolina Coastal Reserve. Getting permission to cross the reserve literally required the governor’s signature, White noted.
Originally, the walkway was to end at the reserve’s scenic trail but lower-than-expected project costs allowed the walkway to be extended to the northern beach access. Just where the paved road ends, a bike rack and wild-horse-proof gate marks a sandy footpath to the beach.
The project was paid with a $500,000 state Parks and Recreation Trust Fund grant and $800,000 in county occupancy taxes, a 6 percent levy on vacationers’ housing rentals.
White plans to seek more grants for improving pedestrian access to beaches, the sound and commercial areas at the resort.
The first step has been mapping what walking paths, both private and public, already exist, she said. From there, the county will develop a 10-year improvement plan in manageable, not-too-costly steps.
The paths will be safer for visitors but also provide more recreational options, she said.
“The Corolla Greenway will provide residents and tourists with a safe and beautiful means of exercise in a time when more than 50 percent of Americans are considered overweight,” White said in the grant application.
Subdivisions have made that task a little easier. Much of N.C. 12 is already lined with privately built walkway, but in some cases, the walkways do not connect with one another, noted White.