Greenbelt, bike trails connect city to regionPlano resident Alex DuLaney likes to take the scenic route. With a map and mostly his memory, the avid cyclist uses the city's trails to get just about anywhere without the stress of gas prices or traffic jams.

"Now that Plano has the connection under [US] 75, I can catch the trail just several blocks from my house and [take] the Bluebonnet Trail, go all the way around Bob Woodruff [Park] and back and it's about a 24-mile ride," DuLaney said. "And it's great, I never have to be on the streets except from my house to the trail."

Although Plano's on-street bike route system was introduced four years ago, enhanced signage and signalization have added to its visibility. Like a bus route, each path is designated with a number. Given time and the right economic climate, officials say these routes could help North Texas fulfill its goal in creating continuous recreational connections throughout the region.

"Some folks [ride] to Celina. Some folks go to [Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport] and come back," DuLaney said. "It's really not as far as you think—about 40 or 50 miles."

With trails providing recreational links beyond its borders and more on the way, Plano is on track with the Six Cities Trail Plan of 2000. The long-term plan created in conjunction with the North Central Texas Council of Governments is one of the first interjurisdictional trail plans in Texas and outlined how the cities of Plano, Allen, McKinney, Richardson and Garland can create intercity trail connections.

Greenbelt, bike trails connect city to regionTo date, the plan has had a significant impact on trail planning in Collin County, assisting communities in acquiring grant funding and resulting in a large number of trail corridors being constructed, according to Collin County's Regional Trails Master Plan of 2012.

But Plano's web of green space and trails hasn't always been so intricate, officials say. For years, the Plano Parks and Recreation Department prided itself in staying ahead of growth. And as the city enters another era of economic resurgence, the department is working to stay ahead. It is a position department officials have not been in for about a decade.

"The foundation was there, and to this day, we still don't have a lot of bells and whistles in our system," Parks Services Manager Jim Fox said. "Part of that reason is that we were trying to build the foundation with all the basic elements needed to stay ahead of growth [as early as the 1970s]. This was something not everyone was doing at the time. Plano was a pioneer to do those things."

The starting line

With more than 70 miles, Plano's trail system is the most used of its amenities— eight out of 10 residents will use the trails at some point, according to city surveys. Fox has been with the department for 33 years and remembers when green space came to the forefront of city politics in the 1970s. The bedroom community was already seeing growth on the horizon.

"We had a plan and we followed it, which is one of the things that really show today," Fox said.

Former Parks and Recreation board Chairman Jack Carter is credited for making trails a priority. In the early 1980s, Carter worked alongside former recreation director and City Manager Bob Woodruff and others to set the initiative into motion. Carter worked with Texas Power and Light in acquiring easements along transmission lines that bisect the city. Today, Jack Carter Park is located where those lines intersect.

"Carter was very much a pioneer in this area. It was the ideal trail corridor. I think that was the beginning of the very early trail networking issues that were set in motion in the late '70s and '80s," Fox said. "It's a piece of history where we're very fortunate to have had leaders at that time who had the vision to say, 'Wow, look what we can do.'"

The next evolution

By the 1990s, Plano's population had doubled and was primed for another decade of explosive growth, Fox said. Over the years, natural creek corridors were utilized and Plano ISD helped by adding parks to its campuses. With the economic downturn of 2006, however, projects grinded to a halt.

"The flip side is what's happening now," he said. "The economy is better and everyone is wanting to move as fast as we can. We have a whole new set of challenges and the demographics are all different."

One of Trail System Planner Renee Jordan's first duties when she was hired in 2007 was to roll out the on-street bike route system, a plan that had been sitting in the planning stage for years waiting for the roads it required to be built.

Information about the system can be found at

"Obviously a lot of trail work was already in place when I got here. It's complicated now. It's so complicated that you need a person lining up easements or working on agreements with utility companies," Jordan said.

Mapped along collector streets to keep cyclists off busier arterial roads, the system complements the off-street trails and enhances Plano's connectivity. Whereas off-street trails can be found winding through parks and are ideal for jogging, dog walking and family hikes, on-street bike routes are also vehicle thoroughfares. But both play an integral part in connecting the city, Jordan said.

"Together the [off-street trails and on-street bike routes] can get you places. You really need both of them together to make a complete trip [through Plano]," she said.

Like DuLaney, Plano Bicycle Association President Andrew Hoodwin uses the trails and on-street bike routes to get around. On-street routes are beneficial in that they give cyclists a set place to be. With more awareness and connections, Hoodwin said the system could be very helpful for motorists, pedestrians and trail users of all types.

"It's really [new] in its existence, not a lot of people are using it—but some people use it," Hoodwin said. "We need exposure. Most people don't know what we have."

For its part, Plano officials are eyeing the northwest portion of the city for potential trail extensions. These days, the challenge is now a matter of getting ahead of the development boom. One advantage is the fact that today's developers understand the importance of green space, Jordan said.

"There's a project to enhance the bridge on Legacy [Drive] over the [Dallas North Tollway] to connect over to the future Legacy West development," she said. "These private developers are interested in providing that connectivity. When they provide those walkable spaces and those green spaces, they're providing an element of livability that people are looking for."