Get to know the Greenway: Debbie West

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By: Jessica Reid, Communications Intern

Debbie West is Development Manager for the East Coast Greenway Alliance, where she uses her writing skills to support safe trails for bikers and pedestrians. 

West’s responsibilities include donor engagement, membership and, most significantly, grant writing. Her role is critical for acquiring the funds to support trails for the millions of people who use the Greenway every year. 

Lately, West has been helping to develop the virtual Greenway Games fundraiser set for Aug. 1-9. At the Greenway Games, participants can bike, walk, run, play hopscotch, do yoga and more to support the expansion of greenways. She is excited about the event because it is the first of its kind at the Greenway and could be a test for more virtual events in the fall. 

Greenways are important to West because she is a bicycle advocate. She was a bike commuter when she lived in Portland, Oregon. Upon moving to Raleigh, North Carolina, in 2010, she found it was not as safe a place to bike. She went to a public Raleigh Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Commission meeting and learned about the East Coast Greenway. She soon discovered the Greenway was moving its headquarters to nearby Durham, North Carolina, and was hiring for an office manager, so she applied for the job. West served as Office Manager until late 2017, when she became development manager.  

Since 2014, West has been involved with the Durham Bike Co-op, a nonprofit that teaches people how to fix and use bikes. Also, she is part of the Durham Community Trail Watch. As part of this group, she leads monthly trail cleanups on the American Tobacco Trail.   

The Vision Zero Movement, which has the goal of eliminating all traffic-related fatalities, inspires West. She explained, “The Vision Zero Movement started in Europe, and some communities have adopted it here. We don’t have to have traffic deaths. It is all preventable. It is really important for people to be able to have a place where they can bike, walk, run, skate, and wheelchair safely without having to be on the roadways.” West said it is important to have trails “not only for recreation and exercise, which is super important for health, but also for commuting and travel.” 

She realizes access to safe roads and trails is a privilege. “I was lucky when I lived in Portland to experience really good infrastructure. In the South, the roadways are not as wide because we don’t have snow removal, so trails and greenways are important, especially our route that is designed to connect people with places they can go, not just to exercise, but to go to school, work and downtown,” she explained.  

West’s father was in the U.S. Army, so she grew up in many places. She lived in Alexandria, Virginia, in high school. This location led to her attending nearby George Mason University, where she earned a degree in English. Her English skills prove handy for grant writing. “I’m very happy that I basically get to write for a living,” she said.  

Prior to working for the Greenway, she spent 10 years doing proposal writing for an engineering firm. 

Outside of her work with the Greenway, West is an independent filmmaker. She has a certificate in documentary video from the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University.

West does yoga and walks or bikes on the Greenway almost everyday. She enjoys the Ellerbee Creek Trail, part of the East Coast Greenway in Durham. She also spends time with her family in the area and with her cat. 

She turned 50 last year, which she said is “an interesting point of life.” She continued, “The friends I have that are older than me modeled that your 50s are the new 30s. It’s never too late to live the life you want to live, and I really want to be healthy and active for the rest of my life. It’s nice to be able to work for an organization that really is supporting that.”

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