Nature Bathing

With 80 miles of greenways, Cary offers a walker-friendly respite.

By Cheryl Capaldo Traylor

Photo by Farid sani

Photo by Farid sani

On a late summer morning, three herons, one white egret, a handful of Canada Geese, and more ducks than possible to count splash in the water under the boardwalk on Black Creek Greenway. This greenway, one of Cary’s longest and most popular, starts at Lake Crabtree’s Old Reedy Creek Road Trailhead and continues for 7.1 miles into Bond Park. It’s the perfect place to appreciate Cary’s natural beauty and biodiversity. And it’s just one of the wonderful greenways that course through the town. 

photo by josh manning / jericho 7 films

photo by josh manning / jericho 7 films

With 80 miles of greenways, Cary is a designated Silver-level Walk Friendly Community. Walk Friendly Communities are committed to improving and sustaining walkability and pedestrian safety and have programs, plans, and policies in place to ensure these measures. “Greenways are the top amenity requested by citizens,” says Sandi Bailey, facilities planner for the Town of Cary. She says weekend user counts performed several years ago estimated that more than 1 million people annually visit Cary greenways.  

The Beginning
Cary began building its greenway system in the mid 1970s when a member of the community, Linda Setliff, brought to the town council’s attention that the high school track team was practicing on Kildaire Farm Road. She was concerned about their safety. About the same time, a national movement started to develop trails around towns to connect citizens with parks and allow easy access to nature and open spaces. Cary joined the movement and immediately began plans to create its own greenway system. In 1979, the Tarbert-Gatehouse Greenway was the first greenway completed in Cary.

Take to the Trails
“The development of Cary’s greenways has been intentional,” says Doug McRainey, director of the Parks, Recreation & Cultural Resources department for the Town of Cary. In 1998, the town had 10.5 miles of greenways, but they were segmented and separate. Cary began extending greenways to link with parks, and made the conscious decision to purchase only parklands that could be connected to a greenway or part of the green infrastructure. This decision led to Cary having a unique system of well-designed, practical, and useful trails. Many of Cary’s greenways also link to schools, neighborhoods, and shopping centers. Every day, hundreds of walkers, bikers, and rollerbladers take to the trails. Beth Martin likes to bring her grandchildren to ride their bikes on the greenways.

“I’m glad to have a safe place to take them where they can play outside in nature like I used to do when I was growing up,” she says. A lot of her fellow Cary residents feel the same way. “The greenway system offers residents a piece of nature, even if only for a few minutes, before they have to go back home and get to work,” McRainey says.

Growing Greenways
With several projects in the works, plans include an eventual greenway system that will encompass more than 200 miles. The town will begin closing gaps, linking up sections, and creating more trails closer to the downtown area. With many diverse ecosystems to walk through and explore—wetlands, woods, lakes—and urban areas to discover, Cary’s greenways keep getting better. “It’s a growing system, for sure,” Bailey says. “The town has done a good job of recognizing the value greenways bring to the community.”

The greenways that ramble through and around Cary might be overlooked when thinking about all the great events taking place in its recreation centers, music venues, and cultural facilities. But these miles of trails serve a unique, unsung function: to provide a bit of peace and quiet to folks who need to step away from the fast pace of busy lives and take a breather, immersed in some beautiful scenery among the trees, herons, hawks, and sunflowers. “Our greenways serve the silent majority. Cary has its programs and festivals, but lots of people just quietly go out and walk the greenways. We feel great about that,” McRainey says.  

photos by matt williams photography

photos by matt williams photography

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40th Anniversary Celebration Events

Come celebrate and learn more about Cary’s greenway trails during the town’s monthly staff-led walks and bike rides highlighting different greenways. On September 7th, the ride will highlight Black Creek Greenway, starting and ending at Bond Brothers Beer Company in downtown Cary.

On October 11th, the town will partner with the Diwali Festival to host a Glow Ride on the greenways around Koka Booth Amphitheatre’s Symphony Lake.

A dedication ceremony on November 2nd will recognize the town’s first greenway, originally named the Tarbert-Gatehouse Greenway and later renamed Annie Jones Greenway. 

An interactive Bike Hike mobile app for Cary’s greenway system is currently being updated. Visit for information and event schedules.

white oak trail  photo by farid sani

white oak trail

photo by farid sani