It sounded like a good idea. Twenty or so miles through the woods on a hard-packed dirt trail on a balmy, late spring day from Wake County to downtown Durham. What could be better?

The much-ballyhooed American Tobacco Trail (ATT) has been a public relations boon for Durham, Chatham and Wake county governments. The excitement over the reuse of old tobacco trails and train tracks fo recreation is understandable, But little has been said about how the trails are when you are walking/ riding/ running along the 22 miles that stretches from Apex to downtown Durham.

All was fine for the first seven miles, a beautiful, flat, tree-lined route, passing creeks and swamps. Then I hit the Chatham County line, where I was rebuffed by large signs declaring the trails closed for construction. Figuring it was minor grading, and having no other way to get back to Durham, I went around the sign and down the perfectly fine trail for another mile or so. Then I got to the bridge, or what will be the first of two bridges that will replace the old train trestles spanning the creek. But there was neither a trestle to tip toe across nor a bridge to walk on. There was no note of this problem on my map, and the projected completion date, according to a 2007 News & Observer story, was late 2008. The only option to reconnect with the ATT was a 6.5 mile-jaunt along N.C. 751 to The Streets at Southpoint, through its parking lot, and over Interstate 40 on Fayetteville Road.

I knew about the lack of a bridge near Southpoint, but the Chatham County hiccups were unexpected and unfortunate. Riding on 751 isn’t rare, many road riders do it regularly, but it isn’t fun, with only a small shoulder (if that), and cars flying by at 55 mph for much of the ride. Alone it wasn’t so bad, just disappointing, but if one was out with family, it would be a perilous way to end a nice Saturday afternoon ride.

We make concessions for the time needed to complete great civic projects, but perhaps it’s also our duty to ask occasionally if the projects are completed and worthwhile. The American Tobacco Trail is a great idea, and when completed it will be an asset to our area, but until then, stay on the Wake and Durham ends of the trail and leave the plans for a tri-county adventure for another year.