Roanoke Buzz: Blazing trails & spreading kindness

Published 11:49 am Wednesday, July 8, 2020

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As many who follow this column know— the participating businesses and organizations, towns and counties known as Roanoke River Partners— has been blazing a trail along the Roanoke since the late nineties. What you might not know is that as these partners engage to draw visitors to our region, they strive to apply a good portion of kindness along the way. Now, amidst the challenging times we are facing, it seems we could all use a little more kindness.

When considering the term “trail-blazing”—you will find that it sometimes refers to literally carving a path that others can follow. It can also refer to introducing a new idea. Back in 1997, the idea of a river trail running through our five-county region was both a new idea and the creation of a literal “path” that visitors could follow. Fortunately, many have done just that.

Now over twenty-three years later, the diverse group of partners that have come together to blaze our Roanoke River Paddle Trail—have accomplished something we can all be proud of. This trail has not only connected thousands of visitors to the communities along the Roanoke—it has also blazed a trail for other communities with river corridors to develop similar eco-tourism initiatives.

With our paddle trail in place, we have more recently turned our sights towards blazing another trail—one that features aspects of the cultural history our river communities share. This trail is the Roanoke River Underground Railroad Trail. Though this history is not a new idea— jointly developing and engaging visitors around this content is.

As we establish this newer regional trail, we are indebted to Wanda Hunt McLean, a regional historian and researcher, who has paved the way for this development. Thanks to Mrs. McLean, the Roanoke, along with other Eastern North Carolina waterways and sites have been recognized by the National Parks Service as part of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.

Additionally, we are grateful to the NC GlaxoSmithKline Foundation for a grant which allowed us to incorporate community education about this regional history as an integral part of developing this trail.

And so, we are now engaging a growing list of “trail blazers” to develop and support two trails here along the lower Roanoke—one which draws visitors to experience our natural assets—and another which is drawing visitors to learn more about our history—our Underground Railroad history.

As we work to address recent national and global concerns, we believe these trails can play a role in our healing and in our economic recovery. We plan to develop and promote these assets to be a part of the solution.

Here is where spreading an extra portion of kindness comes in. We have plans to implement kindness—in dealing with our river communities, our partners and supporters and our paddlers and visitors. It is our intent to be a catalyst to cultivate an environment of kindness as we all work through these challenging times.

Join us in blazing trails to draw more visitors to our region. Join us in supporting our regional businesses and communities. Join us in spreading an extra portion of kindness as we all pull together to come out on the other side— with a shared vision to make this region an even better place to live, work and visit!

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