By Kelly April Tyrrell/Amy Cherry 5:27pm, October 18, 2013 - Updated 9:56am, October 19, 2013
VIDEO: WDEL's Amy Cherry reports.The canal that divides Delaware into north and south has been an important commercial waterway since 1829.
WDEL's Amy Cherry reports.
But the C&D Canal is quickly becoming an important recreational resource as well.
Nine miles of paved trail along the C&D's northern bank was officially opened Friday at a ribbon-cutting ceremony honoring its visionary and namesake, former Delaware governor and Congressman, Mike Castle.
The trail, eventually intended to connect Delaware and Chesapeake Cities, will span 16 miles once completed. A multi-use pathway (a gravel shoulder runs along the paved tract), it has been built with walkers, runners, cyclists, equestrians and anglers in mind.
Division of Public Health Director, Dr. Karyl Rattay, is excited for the potential the trail has to improve the health of Delawareans.
"I'm so excited about the opening of this trail," Rattay said. "We know that when people have access to trails they use them, they're more physically active and if they're more are physically active, they're gonna be healthier."
The Mike Castle Trail is part of Governor Markell's First State Trails and Pathways Initiative. Delaware currently has 506 miles of public-use trail, 2/3 of which is operated by the state, Markell said at the ribbon-cutting event.
A $6 million effort, ground was originally broken on the trail in July of 2012. A 2,500-foot section of the trail starting at Delaware City is currently being constructed and should be finished by next August, officials said.
The pathway came together through the efforts of many state
delegates and legislators and agencies such as the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) and the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.
Markell, also a cyclist, said he was jealous of the people who gathered Friday at one trail entrance under the St. Georges Bridge, dressed in colorful kits and helmets, ready to ride.
"I love riding my bike through Delaware," he said. "It's such a fantastic way to see our state."
In addition to its health benefits, connections like the Mike Castle Trail are also a positive for the local economy.
Several states throughout the U.S. boast millions of dollars, and sometimes hundred of millions of dollars, in money brought in each year through bicycle tourism.
The organization Travel Oregon recently released a report showing that bicycle tourism generates roughly $325 million each year for that state.
A spokeswoman from DelDOT said over 5,000 trips along the trail have been counted since the current portion of the project was completed in August.
Once the ribbon-cutting and celebrations subsided, trail users biked and strolled down the path on a warm and sunny Fall day.
A young couple and their daughter walked and jogged excitedly along the path.
Rattay is eager to get her children out on the trail, too. She thinks it's a great resource for families.
"I'm very excited to bring my kids down here, I think they're gonna to love it," Rattay said. "I think there's a lot of ways that families can use this trail, whether it's just a short family walk to get to explore the canal and the trail itself or families may very well want to come here and bike or even ride horses, I mean, so many options."
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