Navigating Nature

Published 4:14 pm Friday, October 27, 2023

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(Editor’s Note: This story is the second in a series about the Roanoke River being named the 12th State Trail in North Carolina and what that means for the river, the counties the river connects, and the people who care about preserving and experiencing wild, untamed places.)


Special to RC Publications

Just in time for The Year of the Trail, the Roanoke River was recently authorized as North Carolina’s 12th State Trail by the N.C. General Assembly.

Funds received by Roanoke River Partners, Inc. from the North Carolina General Assembly will help renovate several camping platforms along the river. Photo by Roanoke River Partners

This historic endorsement is shining a light on this area’s long-hidden gem, bringing resources and attention to the river and each of the counties and towns woven together by the thread of its dark waters.

According to, “Numerous studies have shown that trail systems and greenways can have a tremendous impact on economic development in the surrounding communities. Trails revitalize urban areas, recreational tourism and small business opportunities.”

One benefit of having a state trail is receiving grant money, according to Roanoke River Partners, Inc. Anne Lunsford.

“When the North Carolina legislature created the Roanoke River State Trail, Roanoke River Partners, Inc. was named as the nonprofit partner of the trail. We became eligible to receive $500,000 from the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources (DNCR) as part of the $29.25 million allocated towards the Complete the Trail Fund.

“This, along with $49,500 Capacity Building Funds from the state, has helped Roanoke River Partners, Inc. continue in its mission to ‘preserve, enhance and promote the natural, cultural and historic identity and integrity of the Roanoke River region.’”

RRP, Inc. also relies on its membership, private donations, grants, and support from regional towns and counties to operate.

Over 25 years ago, RRP, Inc. developed a paddle trail along the Roanoke River, eventually installing over 20 wooden camping platforms. The Roanoke River State Trail will encompass this trail, and will be approximately 140 miles, from Weldon to the Albemarle.

Lunsford said half the NCDR funds ($250,000) are being used to renovate the aging camping platforms. The other half is being used to renovate the historic Rosenwald School in Hamilton, which is located near the river, and will be the future headquarters of the Roanoke River State Trail.

Renovations to the 1920’s historic school are currently estimated at $1.2 million.

Other grants that will help with these renovations are a $550,000 Commerce grant and a $100,000 Cannon Foundation Grant.

Lunsford said RRP, Inc. will continue to apply for other grants as they become available.

The economic benefits of having a state trail in eastern North Carolina are far-reaching, according to Martin County Tourism Director Chase Conner, who also serves on the executive board of RRP, Inc. He is excited about the impact it will have on the area.

“Having a state trail will promote healthy living, education, economic development, and workforce development in the region,” he said.

“The Roanoke River State Trail will help stimulate economic development of the region by bringing in more visitors, who will support already established local businesses – such as restaurants, grocery stores, supply stores, gas stations, tourist destinations and museums,” he added. “The trail will also create a new workforce in trail-support businesses – such as outfitters, guides, hospitality and event coordinators.”

According to Conner, Martin County’s outdoor recreation industry in 2022 was four percent ($24,819,917) of the County GDP ($611,337,000), based on the N.C. Dept. of Commerce’s CORE program (Creating Outdoor Recreation Economies). (GDP is the gross domestic product, or the value of goods and services produced within a county).

Within that, the Roanoke River State Trail and Roanoke River National Wildlife Refuge (in Bertie County) contribute over $18 million in valued goods and services within Martin County each year, he said.

“This makes the river and the newly named state trail very important to economic growth both here and the other five counties in the river region,” he said.

Conner also shared the 2022 findings of VisitNC, in partnership with The Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (NCEDP).

Economic impacts visitors had to the counties in the Roanoke region in relation to recreation are as follows: Halifax ($15.61 million), Chowan ($3.91 million), Martin ($3.84 million), Northampton ($3.86 million), Bertie ($2.7 million) and Washington ($2.28 million), all of which total $32.2 million.

This, along with the grant money RRP, Inc. is receiving on behalf of the state trail designation, the whole region stands to benefit.

“By investing these funds into the state trail, it allows our region to better market and showcase the natural beauty of our region and what makes it such a great place to live and visit,” Conner added.

The N.C. State Parks Trails Program originated in 1973 with the N.C. Trails System Act. It is dedicated to helping individuals, organizations and agencies plan, develop and manage recreational trails. These trails range from greenways to hiking, biking and paddle trails.

2023 is The Year of the Trail, declared by North Carolina’s Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, celebrating the state’s thousands of miles of stunning trails.

The Roanoke River State Trail joins other State Trails which include the Dan River Trail, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail and the East Coast Greenway State Trail.

For more information go to:

For more information about RRP, Inc., or camping reservations, visit:

Deborah Griffin is a freelance writer and can be reached at