Rowan residents encouraged to take part in planning Carolina Thread Trail
ROCKWELL — Hike. Bike. Walk. Run. Paddle. Play. The Carolina Thread Trail is an ambitious recreation project linking 15 counties in two states, and Rowan County is the last piece of the puzzle to pull the trail together.
Because all counties must have a master plan to be a part of the trail, residents of Rowan County now have the opportunity to participate in that planning.
The first steps in this process were taken Tuesday afternoon, as more than a dozen residents attended an open house at the East Rowan Y in Rockwell. Three more open houses are planned throughout the county during the next week.
Officials with Stewart, a Charlotte firm providing landscape architecture for the trail, were on hand to meet with residents, answer questions and conduct a survey about where the trail should go in Rowan County.
Those constructing the trail will only be working with willing property owners, said Iona Thomas, an associate vice president with Stewart.
“This project is not pushed from the top,” she said. “It is built from the bottom up.”
The trail is a series of greenways and blueways (paddle trails via water) which will link some 2.3 million people to more than 40 destinations. It will ultimately total some 1,500 miles of trail. Some of that trail will be sidewalks and paved, multi-use paths; other parts will simply be of natural surface.
According to a video about the trail shown during the open house, it can be considered a ribbon of footpaths, byways, creeks, parklands, pastures and more. It’s also an excellent way to conserve and protect property while connecting people and helping to improve the health of the region’s citizenry. Theoretically, the trail can connect local points of interest with state parks, universities, gardens, museums, natural features, wildlife preserves and the like.
After viewing the short video, residents were asked to rotate through several stations to give their own input to the project. Residents could mark the most important areas in the county, draw lines on maps of municipalities, delineate how they would most likely use the trail and complete a brief, two-page survey which is also available online.
Jim LaFevers, mayor pro tem of Granite Quarry, asked the main objective of the gathering. Jon Wood, an associate vice president with Stewart, said that objective was to try to figure out where the trail might be located. A quarter-mile swath will create a corridor of the trail within the county. Once the trail is mapped and created, Thomas said, signage will indicate the path that folks will take.
“We’re identifying pretty wide swaths of areas that could be future connections,” she added. “Think of it as a study area.”
“Our goal for this study is to come out with a plan that covers the communities within the county,” Wood said.
One day, each county in the Carolina Thread Trail will have some 80-100 miles of trails.
“My wife and I do a lot of walking in Granite Quarry,” LaFevers said. “We’d like to see more walking trails closer to our house. Walking in a natural area is so much more pleasant than walking on a treadmill.”
For now, however, the trail is in its infancy, Thomas said. “We’re in the planning phase.”
Travis Morehead is operations director for the trail. He said that about 18 to 20 miles of trail has been laid each year for the past several years.
“The whole thing is a long process,” he said. “It’s a lot of work, because you’re working with property owners and getting easements.”
But he’s seen progress, he said. Morehead is from Albemarle, and noted that the towns of Misenheimer, Richfield and New London have worked together to create an 8-mile corridor for the trail.
“Those are small towns,” Morehead said. “This is a proven process that works.”
Former County Commissioner Leda Belk attended the meeting, she said, because she’s always been interested in greenways.
“You’re preserving for the future,” she said. “If we don’t step up and protect what we can, what’s left for my grandchildren?”
Belk lived and worked in Mecklenburg County for 20 years, and saw the growth of the greenway system there spur economic development. Families can use the greenways together and are strengthened, she added. “To me, it’s a no-brainer.”
When Belk was on the county commission, she said that the board did a similar study in 2000.
“With utilities, the easements are already there,” she noted. “There’s a lot of connectivity out there. The biggest thing is educating the public and winning their trust.”
Dan Mikkelson, former city engineer with the City of Salisbury, served on the trail’s technical advisory commission. He came Tuesday to show his backing for the project.
“I’m very supportive of it,” he said, “and I’m a little embarrassed that Rowan County is the last county to plan for community improvement.”
Mikkelson said that millions of dollars in private and public money will be used to leverage other grants for the project — but that money can only be accessed if counties have a master plan in place.
“It’s a rare opportunity to bring private and public funding together,” he said.
Andrew Morgan is parks director for Landis and is a member of the trail’s Rowan County steering committee.
“It’s going to be good for everybody,” Morgan said.
Landis residents are interested in connecting downtown with the Lake Corriher Wilderness Area across from the South Rowan Y.
“For a small town, it’s not that much of an issue,” he said. “We can lay a half-mile to a one-mile greenway, and connect the majority of town.”
Each of the county’s municipalities has representation on the steering committee, Morgan said. “All of the municipalities are interested and are for it. But it’s a long, slow process. We’re just getting it started.”
For more information about the Carolina Thread Trail, visit www.carolinathreadtrail.org.
Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury.