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With recreational opportunities currently limited due to the novel coronavirus threat, one facility has seen an upswing in the number of users — the Roanoke Canal Trail.

Roanoke Canal Museum Cultural Resources Leader Ryan Newsome said today the trail saw 4,461 users last month. The last two months of March — 2018 and 2019 — there were 1,905 and 1,536 users respectively.

Even as Newsome and Parks and Recreation Director John Simeon discussed the uptick, people were coming and going at the River Road entrance to the trail — two friends who walked the trail together, a young man home from college and his mother, a woman walking dogs and others who were hiking the trail or riding bicycles.

“It’s really good to see people getting out and trying to take advantage of the recreational opportunities that are available,” Newsome said.

Newsome believes the numbers relate to the virus threat, which led to the temporary closure of facilities like T.J. Davis and Chaloner Recreation centers.

And numbers do typically rise when the weather breaks and the first signs of spring come along.

But the numbers last month tripled over this time last year, Newsome said. “I do think people are looking for outdoor recreational opportunities because of CDC guidelines. I hope people spend more time (on the trail). I hope it will continue when this is over. People are being forced to slow down and enjoy the simple parts of life.”

In February the trail saw 2,310 users and in January 2,450.

Gallery photos of trail views by Lance Martin

For Simeon, the numbers speak well of the parks and recreation staff. “With people not being able to travel, I’m proud of my department staff for creating opportunities and marketing them on social media to offer different and new recreation opportunities. With people not being able to travel I’m very pleased with the numbers because this represents our local community using our resources.”

Simeon believes the use of the available facilities will increase over the next coming months as vacations are postponed and events are cancelled. “We have seen our park usage, including open spaces, walking trails and greenways increase in the past four weeks. I try and visit each facility on a daily basis and have noticed the increased usage.”

Simeon encourages the public to stay in check with its social media sites and the city’s website. “We have seen an uptick in our social media as they shift from phone calls to social media sites. We are regularly updating our social media sites.”

Erika Klinger, who graduates from UNC-Wilmington in May and Catherine Garner were using the trail this afternoon for a walk.

The friends were using the route which offers views of the river. 

Garner said the trail offers an opportunity “to get out of the house instead of being in the house in quarantine.”

Thomas Merritt, a sophomore at North Carolina State, was walking with his mother, Marcie. “We’re just enjoying nature and taking the dog for a walk,” he said. “There’s nothing else to do, really.”

Newsome said the staff is looking for other opportunities to promote the trail. 

The museum has started a tree identification course which begins at the museum’s trail entrance, giving 10 people the opportunity to correctly identify 15 trees in exchange for gift certificates. “We’ve had a couple of incorrect responses and one person has completed it,” Newsome said.

Users of the trail are abiding by CDC guidelines and Governor Roy Cooper’s executive order, Newsome said. “It’s good to see people maintaining their social distance.”