This 22-mile-long recreational trail extends from the American Tobacco Campus in downtown Durham, southward through Chatham County, to its terminus at Jordan Lake in Wake County, near U.S. Route 64. The trail traces the original route of the New Hope Valley Railroad, constructed in 1906. From about 1920 to 1974, the railroad’s primary function was to transfer tobacco from regional farms into the city, until the construction of Jordan Lake re-routed the line. Portions of the railroad lay abandoned until 1989, when the Triangle Rails to Trails Conservancy was founded with a mission to preserve abandoned railway corridors for potential future transportation use, and to otherwise adapt them for public recreation.
In 1992 landscape architect and environmental planner Charles Flink developed the master plan for the American Tobacco Trail. Over the next few decades, each county implemented their segment to create one continuous route. The Durham section of the trail, which opened in 2003, is approximately ten feet wide and is composed of paved asphalt and concrete. Once in Chatham County, the trail transitions to a dual surface of asphalt/concrete and crushed granite, while the southernmost section, in Wake County, is fully composed of crushed granite. The project’s final construction phase, the implementation of a pedestrian bridge over Interstate 40, was completed in 2014. The American Tobacco Trail was the first designated North Carolina segment of the East Coast Greenway, a fifteen-state, 3,000-mile-long biking and walking route.