What’s So Great about the Tobacco Road?

American Tobacco Trail

This weekend, hundreds of runners will join each other to run a long stretch of trails in Chatham County, known as the American Tobacco Trail (ATT). It’s always inspiring to read about a bunch of people gathering together to improve their health.

In light of the soon-to-be marathoners and half-marathoners, I thought I’d share my favorite things about what makes the ATT so great.

A brief history of the ATT:

Before jumping into things, I thought I’d share the unique history of the trail.

Way back in the early 1900s, North Carolina was known for producing tobacco; in fact, the economies of cities such as Winston-Salem and Durham were entirely built around tobacco processing. Back then, a man named J.B. Duke founded the American Tobacco Company in Durham, which relied on several railroads to ship tobacco in and out of the city for processing.

One of those railroads, the New Hope Valley Railway, had to be rerouted in the 1970s, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built the Jordan Lake Reservoir (in case you didn’t know, Jordan Lake isn’t a natural lake; it’s manmade). Most of the new track was laid throughout Durham, Chatham and Wake Counties.

Ten years later, though, as other transportation methods became more economical, much of this new track was removed. In the 1980s the Triangle Rails to Trails Conservancy (TRTC) was formed to preserve the land and to develop it into multi-use trails. By 1992, the group developed a master plan for the ATT system, and construction was completed in 2013.

The Tobacco Road Marathon:

Because the trail system used to exist as railways, it is very flat and very straight. This makes it an ideal course for marathon races.

Every spring, runners descend onto the trail to attempt the Tobacco Road Marathon. Both the full and half marathon run the same course for 2.5 miles to and from the American Tobacco Trail (ATT). Once on the trail, the marathon runners cover 21 miles on the ATT and the half marathoners run eight miles on the trail.

Because there are very few hills and a downhill finish, runners often try to use the Tobacco Road Marathon to achieve a personal best or a Boston qualifying time.

After the race, organizers throw a big post-race party, with homemade bread and butter from Great Harvest Bread Company. In addition, all runners can enjoy Sunkist, which provides fresh sweet oranges, and Sysco, which provides chocolate milk. For those of age, NC-based Natty Greene’s will be serving beers, and runners get two free beers apiece. Sounds like a runner’s paradise!

American Tobacco Trail

Photo credit: Tobacco Road Marathon

Explore Chatham County through the ATT:

Whether you decide to visit Chatham county for the marathon, or whether you come any other time of year, the ATT makes a great way to explore the Triangle area of North Carolina.

1. Jordan Lake State Park:

The southern tip of the ATT is close to Jordan Lake State Park, which offers boating, bald eagle watching, camping, swimming, hiking, fishing, picnicking and more. In fact, I blogged about everything the park has to offer here, and Chatham County residents should definitely make a visit to Jordan Lake a regular part of their summers!

2. Umstead State Park:

If the idea of walking flat, straight trails sounds tedious, up your game by heading to Umstead State Park. This nature preserve in Raleigh and Cary has miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. These trails are anything but flat, and they’ll provide a good challenge for any fitness level. The park surrounds three man made lakes, and the largest lake, Big Lake, offers canoe and rowboat rentals. Fishing is also welcome at all the lakes and connecting tributaries.

3. Pittsboro, NC:

Located in the heart of Chatham County, Pittsboro is a true North Carolina town. Whether you visit for the day or stay overnight, you’ll find TONS of sights and activities that appeal to a variety of ages and diverse interests. Explore Fearrington Village (home to the best restaurant in North Carolina), delightful B&Bs, challenging golf, food tours, wineries and the Carolina Tiger Rescue.

(Curious about how to spend your time in Pittsboro? Check out my blog post “36 Hours in Pittsboro” for some ideas!)

4. Durham Bulls Athletic Park:

Housed in the downtown American Tobacco District, the Durham Bulls Athletic Park is the center of activity for the city of Durham. Designed by the same architects who created the historic Camden Yards in Baltimore, DBAP includes a 32-foot high left field wall dubbed the Blue Monster, complete with a towering bull on top, terrific views from each of the 10,000 seats in the park, and a brick design that both hearkens back to baseball’s storied fields (including the original Durham Bulls stadium) and matches the historic tobacco warehouses surrounding the stadium.

Catch a Durham Bulls baseball game or check out any of the other local events, ranging from theater performances at DPAC to art exhibits at the Nasher Museum of Art.

Durham Bulls Athletic Park

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Have you ever visited the ATT? Let me know what you thought!