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The Coalition

Fort Macon State Park | Carteret County

Great Trails State Coalition

Who We Are

A broad-based group of diverse organizations, agencies and supporters advocating for increased state investment in all types of trails statewide – hiking, paddle, mountain bike, equestrian, paved.

The Vision

North Carolina is the Great Trails State, where each of our 100 counties enjoys the proven benefits of trails, including health, safety, economic development, tourism, transportation, and environment.

The Next Steps for North Carolina

The Great Trails State Coalition recommends building upon NC’s trail legacy by investing in and expanding our current trail systems:


Building the Great Trails State

Great Trails State Fund

$50.5M One-Time

$50M competitive grant program to fund investment ready trail projects. Administered by NCDNCR ($500K).

Design and construction of a rich variety of trail types throughout North Carolina – natural surface, paved, equine and paddle trails.

Flexible match demonstrates community investment. Source of matching funds for local governments, non-profits and tribal governments applicants. More communities will have access to increasing Federal funding specific to biking and walking.

Significant, recurring economic, health, and environmental benefits to every community that builds trails.

Support State Trail Non-Profits

$750,000 Recurring

Recurring $50,000 capacity building grants for (12) State Trail non-profits.

State Trail Non-Profits have developed and committed to detailed 5-year plans with the State. The organizations are the driving force behind State Trail development, harness thousands of volunteer hours, and connect State Trails to the communities they serve.

Paved Trail Feasibility Study Program

$2M One-Time

$2M administered by NCDOT.

Program readies well-conceived paved trail projects for design and construction. Projects are more competitive for Federal funds. Inaugural $2M program received over 60 applications for $5M in funding for over 250 miles of trails.

View or Download our Legislative Flyers:

North Carolina has big plans for trails. See the growing list of investment ready projects across the State.

frequently Asked Questions

The Great Trails State Coalition is a broad-based group of diverse organizations, including nonprofits, local government and industry partners and other supporters advocating for increased state investment in all types of muscle-powered trails statewide.

The Great Trails State Coalition supports all types of non-motorized trails, including hiking trails, paved greenways, paddle trails, mountain bike, and equestrian trails.

The goal of the Great Trails State Coalition is to secure sustained state investment in trail projects across the state, through appropriations for trail programs and projects.

Compared to other peer states, NC lags behind in direct state funding for trail projects. All funds for trail projects, other than some limited NC DOT planning funds, are federal pass-through dollars. Small rural communities are particularly at a disadvantage because of burdensome match requirements, often leaving potentially available federal dollars inaccessible.

North Carolina communities are ready for trails now. The NC DOT recently published the Great Trails State Plan, a statewide plan for shared-use paths that connect all 100 North Carolina Counties. With this blueprint ready, we need to start investing in our communities now.


Between 2010 and 2018, 43 of North Carolina’s rural counties saw a net loss of people according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Rural areas are struggling with population decline, low property values, and a small tax base impacting schools, services, and infrastructure. Creating high quality recreation trails is one tool that has been shown to be a powerful economic engine for small towns.


As trail use and park visitation increased substantially through the pandemic, we want to be ready to tap into federal green infrastructure stimulus funding opportunities and put these dollars to work in rural and urban areas alike, centered on trails as a unifying infrastructure. No other single type of investment impacts as many aspects of our lives, including health, safety, mobility, recreation, environment, and economic development. Now is the time to make an investment that will connect our communities and benefit North Carolinians for generations to come.

There are more than 70 members of the Great Trails State Coalition as of 2023, including nonprofit organizations, local governments, and industry partners. For a complete listing, see our member page.

The minimum amount to join the Coalition as an organization is $250.

There are several benefits for members of the Coalition:

1. Be part of the movement to secure state funding for trails

2. Speak with One Voice for Great Trails State funding and policies

3. Stay updated on statewide advocacy efforts

4. Learn from others and share your lessons learned

5. Participate in GTSC Committees (Legislative, Year of the Trail, Recruitment)

6. Help guide trail policy recommendations

7. Combine with nonprofits and industry partners to make your voice louder

8. Connect your legislative liaisons and elected officials to the movement

The Great Trails State is not a nonprofit corporation; therefore, we have a fiscal sponsor to manage our finances. Dues are paid to one of the Coalition’s fiscal sponsors. Currently Foothills Conservancy of NC is accepting dues from nonprofit and local government members and the NC Chapter of the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC NC) is accepting dues from industry partners.

As a Coalition member, you are invited to participate in any of the committees and working groups – Legislative, Year of the Trail, Recruitment and Cities, Towns and Counties for Trails. These committees meet periodically and are chaired by a Coalition member.

While North Carolina historically has not invested directly in trails, the 2021 budget set aside significant funding for the 12 authorized State Trails. The Complete the Trails Fund allocated more than $29 million for state trails, including project funding, land acquisition funding and capacity building grants to state trail nonprofit partners (each state trail has one designated nonprofit partner). Some funding for trails is available through PARTF grants and the state manages the Recreational Trails Program (federal pass through funding).

The NC General Assembly designated 2023 as Year of the Trail, to celebrate North Carolina’s extensive trail networks, including State Trails, regional trail networks and local trails, representing multi-use greenways, water, hiking, equestrian and mountain bike trails. This ongoing campaign is delivering messages about how to find trails and explore North Carolina’s magnificent landscapes through trails across multiple media platforms including social media, advertising, owned content and more. See https://greattrailsnc.com/ for more information. One of the goals of the campaign is to help elected leaders recognize our trails as essential community infrastructure for quality of life, recreation, and community economic development.

The Great Trails State Plan is a first of its kind, statewide trail map network of existing and proposed shared-use paths and trails that connect every county in North Carolina, with a focus on connections between population centers and North Carolina State Parks. The plan includes a 5-year implementation strategy. The planning effort was led by the N.C. Department of Transportation’s Integrated Mobility Division, in coordination with the NCDOT Transportation Planning Division and North Carolina State Parks. Whereas NCDOT’s Great Trails State Plan focuses on shared use paths, this Great Trails State Coalition includes all types of trails. NCDOT: Integrated Mobility Division – Great Trails State Plan

State Trails are regional trails authorized by the General Assembly and represent some of the State’s most magnificent landscapes from the mountains to the coast. North Carolina currently has 12 authorized State Trails which are part of the State Parks system: Mountains-to-Sea Trail, Deep River State Trail, Fonta Flora State Trail, French Broad River State Trail, Hickory Nut Gorge State Trail, Northern Peaks State Trail, Overmountain Victory State Trail, Wilderness Gateway State Trail, Yadkin River State Trail, Dan River State Trail, Roanoke River State Trail, and the East Coast Greenway. https://trails.nc.gov/state-trails

Trails and greenways provide numerous benefits to communities, including recreational and environmental benefits, and significant economic development, health, and transportation benefits. Trails also create positive community pride and identity, with financial returns that far exceed public investments.

With a high rate of return, investments in trails contribute significantly to local economies and tourism, particularly in rural areas, by creating desirable places for people to visit, live and work. Trails also create more attractive, safer communities, increase property values and tax revenues, enhance marketability, and increase home sales or leases faster than conventional development. In a study conducted by NC DOT, a one-time $26.7M capital investment in 4 different greenways in NC returned the following: $19.4 M in estimated annual sales revenue in local businesses, $48.7M in estimated business revenue from greenway construction, $648K in estimated annual sales tax revenue for local governments. In other words, every $1.00 of trail construction returns $1.72 annually from local businesses. The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that for every $98,000 in transportation related construction spending, there is one short-term job created (short-term defined as lasting for one year).

Trails and greenways are accessible, free and safe healthy recreation amenities for all ages to cycle, walk, hike, jog, ride, paddle, or skate. Trails make it easy for people to incorporate exercise into their daily routines by connecting them with places they want or need to go. Communities that encourage physical activity by making use of trails and greenways can see a significant positive impact on public health and wellness. A 2017 study by the East Coast Greenway Alliance of 70 miles of their route in the Triangle region produced the following health benefits:

  • 11,225,000 estimated miles biked per year
  • 7,407,000 estimated miles walked per year
  • 3,592,000 hours of physical activity per year
  • $1.5 million in health and environmental benefits per year

Greenways and trails can function as alternative transportation corridors, serving as an important part of an urban and/or regional multi-modal transportation system. The ability to avoid congested streets and highways, and travel through natural areas on foot or by non-motorized means, is a large factor in a community’s “livability”, as well as safety. There are an estimated 193 bicyclists and pedestrians killed each year in North Carolina (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2017). Off-road greenways reduce injury rates by 60% (Teschke, Kay. “Route Infrastructure and the Risk of Injuries to Bicyclists”. (2012). American Public Health Association).

Typically linear by design, greenways protect important habitat and provide corridors for people and wildlife. They also help improve air and water quality. By protecting land along rivers and streams, greenways prevent soil erosion and filter pollution caused by agricultural and road runoff. Greenways can serve as natural floodplains. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, flooding causes over $1 billion in property damages every year. By restoring developed floodplains to their natural state, many riverside communities are preventing potential flood damage. Finally, trails and greenways are hands-on environmental classrooms. People of all ages can see for themselves the precious and intriguing natural world from which they often feel so far removed.

Trails are free community infrastructure providing people of every age, ability and socioeconomic background safe and inexpensive spaces for outdoor physical activity, commuting and recreation, providing access to nature, to safe routes and healthy lifestyles, and to low‐impact tourism that benefits rural, urban, and suburban communities

Outdoor Recreation is a $11.8 Billion industry in NC, supporting 130,000 jobs. Our trails, greenways and blueways are the infrastructure that supports this industry. Many local economies are turning to outdoor recreation to attract visitors and boost tourism. There are 178 million potential customers within a day’s drive who can enjoy our natural resources and spend money in our communities. https://edpnc.com/industries/orec/

We have identified investment ready projects all across the State. These projects will create lasting, accessible outdoor recreation infrastructure that communities can use for healthy recreation and economic development opportunities. In addition, NC DOT’s Great Trails State Plan identifies more future projects to connect all 100 NC counties, and our State Trails map shows where efforts are underway to create regional connections for these projects.

You can help by talking to your elected officials at your local and state level about the importance of trails to your community. Need some talking points? Use this list of Frequently Asked Questions or get in touch with us info@greattrailsnc.org).

Bicentennial Greenway
Greensboro, NC

Image by Tiffany Stodart