Wilmington Loop

Loop coalition: Finish walkable bike trail around Wilmington

Betsy PriceCulture, Headlines


A coalition of community, business, politic and civic leaders want to close the gaps between walkable biking trails to create a Wilmington Loop.

A group of business, community and government leaders would like to see several New Castle County walkable bike trails connected to become a seamless 16-mile Wilmington Loop.

Doing so, says leaders of the coalition, would transform the city’s economy and quality of life because it would:

  • Connect communities, jobs, schools, cultural institutions and state and national parks.
  • Create safe paths for people to walk or bike for recreation or to get to work
  • Enhance and remove barriers for isolated and underserved neighborhoods
  • Encourage direct economic development in the form of stores, restaurants, offices, homes and entertainment venues along the path
  • Become the kind of destination amenity that attracts residents and corporations to the area

“It would change the whole dynamic,” said Scott Johnson, leader of the Wilmington Loop Coalition and a developer with Johnson Commercial Real Estate.

A Wilmington Loop would tie together the Northern Delaware Greenway Trail, the Jack Markell Trail, the cities of Wilmington, Newport and New Castle, multiple National Heritage sites, state and local parks and hundreds of thousands of people with great jobs, restaurants and cultural attractions, the coalition said in a press release.

Johnson pointed to the Atlanta Beltline in Atlanta, Georgia, the Swamp Rabbit Trail in Greenville, South Carolina, and the Arlington Loop in Arlington, Virginia, all of which run through city, park and natural lands.

“You look at any small, big or medium sized city that has done this, and it’s changed the whole benefit of accessibility around the city,” said Johnson, who is an avid biker and runner.

No state in the region offers such an amenity, the coalition said.

Completing the loop would require building three links: one between Newport and Kirkwood Highway; one through Rockford Park; and a 2.1-mile piece  through Wilmington’s East Side, where transformation already is taking place with the building of new neighborhoods in what had been a blighted area.

The East Side Connector would link the Brandywine and Christina River trails, both of which end on the East Side, giving every neighborhood in and bordering the city safe and easy access resources and recreation, Johnson said.

Wilmington Loop

This rendering shows how the East Side Connector would link the Christina and Brandywine River Trails.

It’s an idea that Logan Herring Sr., chief executive officer of the WRK Group, says speaks real truth to the issue of community investments and connections. His group is building the new East Side houses and operates the Teen Warehouse.

“Transportation is one of the biggest barriers to access resources,” Herring said from Boston, where he was attending a conference. “So if we’re going to think about innovative ways of connecting the community so things aren’t seen as ‘best for them and it’s not for me,’ one of the simplest ways to do it is through a mode of transportation.

“That’s not necessarily a bus line that you have to walk blocks to get to and so forth. You know, everybody can hop on a bicycle or walk, and I believe — and it’s very optimistic — but I believe that it’s possible.”

The coalition is encouraged by the $23 million federal grant given to New Castle County to build a 2-mile, ADA-accessible trail connecting the town of Newport with the Jack. A. Markell Trail in Wilmington. It will run under Interstate 95 and include a bridge through marshland.

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Scott and others didn’t want WILto speculate on how much it would cost to build the three links.

Mary Roth, executive director of Delaware Greenways, said flat trail construction generally costs about $1 million per mile. The Newport to Wilmington piece costs more because building bridges is expensive, she said.

Property along the rivers includes a right-of-way city easement that could be used for a trail, coalition leaders say, and the property owners that they have approached have been enthusiatic about the project.

First, though, the coalition needs to find funding for a feasibility study, or studies if the each section will be considered a separate project. A feasibility study would require hiring a consultant, Roth said.

Loop momentum

The proposal is not a new idea. Johnson said people have been talking about a Wilmington Loop for a decade but in 2021 formed the Wilmington Loop Coalition, which refers to itself at WiLCO.

Member of the Coalition include Rod Ward, CSC; Patrick Callahan, LabWare; Greg Pettinaro, Pettinaro Co.; Brian DiSabatino, EDiS Co.; Chris Buccini, Buccini/Pollin Group Inc.; Gene Delle Donne, Avenue North; Rep. Krista Griffith; Rep. Mike Smith; Sen. Spiros Mantzavinos; Megan McGlinchey, Riverfront Development Corp.; Jennifer Kmiec, Committee of 100;  Ryshema Dixon, Wilmington City Council; James Spadola, Wilmington City Council; Bob Perkins, Delaware Business Roundtable; Cathy Parsells, Kalmar Nyckel Foundation; Paul Herdman, Rodel Foundation; Linda Jennings, Community Education Building; Aaron Bass, East Side Charter; and Nate Durant, Freire Charter School.

Mike Fleming, president of Delaware Bio, an association of life sciences companies, got involved with the project after he met Johnson for coffee shortly after joining Delaware Bio in 2020. Johnson zealously described how a loop would work and invited Fleming to join him to bike around the area.

Fleming did and was stunned to realize that an extension of a complete city trail through Alapocas Woods and Rockford Park will connect many of his member companies and thousands of jobs in the state’s bioscientific research, as well as health care and banking sectors just north of the city.

His daughter was living in Atlanta at the time and he was familiar with the Atlanta Beltline through her.

“You’ve got the makings of a full complete loop around and through the city of Wilmington, which I think could be a tremendous marketing asset, obviously from an economic development standpoint, but just a tremendous asset for all communities,” he said. “If you ever spend time on the Jack Markell trail, one of the things that I think really strikes you is the diversity of the neighbors  who are out enjoying it, whether by foot or bike. It’s really one of the rare places that brings people from all different communities and neighborhoods together.”

A big bonus, Fleming said, is that with the number of apartment buildings going up on the Christina and Brandywine rivers, a loop would allow workers to bike to work in a matter of minutes or access cultural amenities.

The coalition now is working to raise awareness of the idea and decide how to approach the idea of funding for a feasibility study and, ultimately, for construction.

Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki is all in.

“This initiative has picked up encouraging momentum,” he said in a coalition press release, “and the city supports the effort to create numerous outdoor recreational opportunities to explore our great city as well as beautiful neighboring environs.”

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