The City of Durham first proposed converting the railway to a recreational trail in 2001, as a way to link the South Ellerbe Creek Trail with the American Tobacco Trail and connect the Duke Park and Old North Durham residential neighborhoods to a vibrant downtown area. Over the years, the project has gained widespread support from elected officials, civic groups, neighborhood associations, and downtown business leaders.

Our Role

The City of Durham worked for many years to acquire the rail corridor from its owner, Norfolk Southern, but a deal seemed difficult to reach. As the Belt Line hung in the balance, The Conservation Fund stepped in to help with negotiations and purchased the property in 2017 as the interim owner while the city secured the necessary funding. In 2018, the property was transferred to the City of Durham, marking a pivotal victory for the Belt Line.

The city now aims to engage the communities around the Belt Line in the planning and design process to better understand their needs and address concerns about gentrification, displacement and inequity. This community-led process ensures the Durham Belt Line benefits all of Durham.

The Conservation Fund continues to be involved by supporting projects that enhance communities along the Belt Line. We are replicating the approach we used in Atlanta, where we’ve helped create three neighborhood parks in underserved communities along the Atlanta BeltLine that deliver environmental, economic and social justice benefits.

We are building on our Atlanta model in creating new or improving existing green spaces in Durham by using active community engagement of residents in vulnerable neighborhoods to select where and how to build. The JPB Foundation is supporting our new work in Durham and Atlanta as well as Raleigh, NC, Baltimore, MD, and Washington, DC. This complements additional efforts by the Fund to explore opportunities for improved storm water management through green infrastructure.

Why this project matters

Protection and restoration of this two-mile corridor will improve the quality of life for Durham residents by providing a crucial walking and biking corridor right near the heart of Durham. The Belt Line would also contribute to a safer community, allow for future connections to more pocket parks and greenways, and provide an excellent place for a green infrastructure gateway to educate and engage residents and visitors with the region’s water resources. Compared to Manhattan's High Line, the Durham Belt Line has the ability to transform the city and boost revitalization efforts in the downtown area.

“We have to make sure that we are providing people with places- trails and parks where they can play, where they can exercise, where they can enjoy themselves, and everybody has access. The Durham Belt Line project, right in the heart of the City, is going to accomplish that.”

Steve Schewel, Mayor, Durham, NC

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