Leaving my Mark on the Organization by Leaving their Mark in the Community

The Carolina Thread Trail is a planned regional network of greenways, trails and blueways that will ultimately connect 15 counties, 2 states and 2.3 million people. With the tagline of “Weaving Communities Together” the Thread Trail works to link people, places, cities, towns and attractions together. The Thread Trail preserves our natural areas and is a place for exploration of nature, culture, science and history. This is a landmark project that provides public and community benefits for everyone, in every community. It is creating a community and conservation legacy that will give so much, to so many, for so long.

In my first few months as a Davidson Impact Fellow for the Carolina Thread Trail, I haveLeaving my Mark on the Organization by Leaving their Mark in the Community spent most of my time learning and listening. Although the Carolina Thread Trail is an organization based so close to the college with trail segments in the town of Davidson, I was not fully aware of the organization and its mission until I heard about it through the Davidson Impact Fellows program. Within my first days at the organization, it became apparent that I was not alone in my lack of familiarity with the Thread Trail. The Thread Trail is a relatively young organization, with its beginnings in 2007. For the first years of its existence, Thread Trail staff and advocates worked with communities to establish and adopt a planned route in each county. Now, seven years down the road, the thread has over 220 miles of completed trail segments spread out throughout its footprint and two “blueway” paddling routes along the South Fork and Rocky River. Despite these resources, the fear of the lack of familiarity with the organization in the community was a central theme in my conversations with my co-workers.

My one-year fellowship with the Thread Trail will focus on measuring the current level of community awareness and work on smallprojects designed to increase that level of awareness. One of my first projects involves signage and trails. Signs are expensive, but necessary to inform trail users they are on a segment of the Carolina Thread Trail. My task was to try to research alternative ways of marking trails in a more cost-effective manner.  The result of the work so far is a pavement stencil with the Thread Trail name and logo. This stencil could be used to mark many of our paved section of trails incommunities where other signage opportunities are limited. After testing paints, my co-worker and I were able to put the first stencil on the ground at one of the Thread’s signature trails, the Seven Oaks Trail in Gaston County. Although it is only some paint on the pavement, stenciling the Thread Trail’s logo has been a tangible way my work has contributed to the goals of the organization—and made a very literal mark on some of the local communities as well.

The Most Powerful Thing So Far…

By Cakey Worthington ’13The Most Powerful Thing So Far…

It is crazy to think that I am already two months into my year as a fellow and two months into my first job. It’s big; it’s exciting; and it’s going by so fast. Through the generous funding of the Davidson Impact Fellows program, I am a research fellow at the Carolina Thread Trail under the organizational umbrella of the Catawba Lands Conservancy. I live a comfortable 20 minutes from Davidson in downtown Charlotte, a wonderful city many students never get to explore.

The Carolina Thread Trail is a non-profit trail project connecting communities through greenways, blueways, trails, and sidewalk-connector paths. The organization currently has over 120 miles of developed trail with many more adopted connector paths and will eventually develop into a 1,500 mile trail network across 15 counties in North and South Carolina.

My primary goal in this position is to determine the economic impact of the Carolina Thread Trail across the region, although I intend to work on a diversity of projects in the office with the Catawba Lands Conservancy as well. So far, I have innovated and will soon launch several survey studies with local business owners, trails users, and realtors, in order to begin to piece together the economic impact story. All of the people I have talked to in my short time here have been enthusiastic and energetic about this economic impact initiative.

I have met with government officials, non-profit leaders, and trail users and supporters throughout my eight weeks so far. It is in meeting all of these people that I have determined what the most powerful thing about this fellowship is. This “Davidson Impact Fellowship” is what its name implies; it is truly an impactful thing I am doing here. Right out of the starting gate, it was clear to me that everyone I talked to was excited and motivated by the work I would be doing. The economic impact story of these trails will become a tool for all of these people, a tool to fortify what to some is obvious: that trails are good for the community, the environment, and the economy. Trails and greenways are a triple-win; but in a time of reduced government spending, funding is harder to come by for continued development of this project.

I know how helpful my work will be, and that is my favorite part of this job. In many ways, it has been both intimidating and motivating. After the tremendous responses from all the people I’ve met, I felt a bit of pressure make sure my end products are truly useful. It is that realization that I may have a real impact that encourages me to work hard. When I think about what I want to accomplish, I remember that I only get one year to make it all happen. I’m already two months in and time is certainly flying. Luckily, I feel that I have a good handle on my vision for these projects and how to work within the year-long timeline. Additionally, I am given hearty encouragement and sound advice from my program mentors: my boss, Executive Director of the Catawba Lands Conservancy, Tom Okel, and the Davidson Alumni Director, Marya Howell. It is with the help of these sage guiding individuals that I have been so successful already.

As I delve into the heart of my work here, I hope to be thinking and acting deliberately so that each thing I do here, no matter how small, can contribute to the greater impact I have both on this organization and in the Thread Trail’s footprint as a whole.

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