Building Platforms… and Bridges

Published 2:40 pm Tuesday, September 18, 2018

It’s certainly no big secret that many of our small towns are struggling to redefine themselves amidst the ever-changing world around us. Most of our towns are concerned about their prospects for the future. Our once prosperous Roanoke River communities are undergoing changes.

Back in 1997, it was this challenging economic landscape that prompted community leaders to envision and support the development of Roanoke River Partners (RRP) and our Roanoke River Paddle Trail. The creative problem solvers who came together then were looking for new solutions to the economic challenges our communities were facing.

Today, the once novel idea of building trails to capitalize on natural and cultural resources is not such a new idea. If you look at communities around us, across North Carolina and beyond—you see lots of places developing in ways that allow them to take advantage of their natural and cultural resources.

There aren’t many weeks that we don’t get calls with questions about how we developed a new market by building a regional paddle trail with camping platforms.

Though there is no actual “playbook” for these challenging times, we have found some great resources for rural communities— resources like the NC Rural Center, NCEast Alliance, NC Growth, Z. Smith Reynolds, The National Trust for Historic Preservation and The Conservation Fund’s Resourceful Communities Program, among others. These are some of the supportive partners that RRP has developed relationships with over the past twenty-one years.

In looking back, we can see that in addition to building camping platforms—one of the most fruitful strategies that we employed over the years is that of “building bridges” with compatible partners. I can never say enough about the bounty that our partners brought to our shared body of work.

Our partners have generously shared their knowledge, expertise and resources; they have opened doors for us and endorsed our work; and they have seen us through a host of storms (literally and figuratively) over the past twenty plus years.

Roanoke River Partners have never had a big—or even adequate—budget but our partners have made the difference in equipping us to sustain and expand our regional development. After over two decades of operation, if we have a “secret to success” it is undoubtedly our partners!

This would probably be a good place to say thank you to each of our contributing partners (you know who you are) for believing and investing in our mission to bring new economic enterprise to our region. We are grateful you have supported us in so many meaningful ways over the years. Any success RRP has realized is shared with those of you who “chip in” each year to sustain our work.

Want to be a bridge builder? Want to join a growing list of partners who are making a difference in our little corner of the world? We’d love to add you, your business or organization to our team.

Our communities continue to search for new solutions to positively impact our rural economies. Let’s support them by finding ways to build bridges that bring new promise to our Roanoke River Region!

Carol Jones Shields is the Executive Director of Roanoke River Partners, Inc. You can contact her at (252) 798-3920 or You can learn more about Roanoke River Partners at