After years, Commissioners vote to join Thread Trail by slim margin
Following a parade of supportive speeches by meeting attendees, Rowan County Commissioners on Monday voted to join more than a dozen other counties in the Carolina Thread Trail project.
Commissioners considered the thread trail — a regional network of greenways and waterways — multiple times during the previous several years, but never formally voted to join the project. The Carolina Thread Trail’s goal is to link parks and provide walking and biking paths for a 15-county swath of land in the Carolinas. Law enforcement, trash and eminent domain were all concerns under previous groups of county commissioners. Identical concerns emerged again Monday. This time, commissioners voted by a 3-2 count to approve a master plan of the project for Rowan and join the greenway project.
The Salisbury Bicycle Coalition showed up in full force during Monday’s meeting, and many members spoke in support of the project. One by one, members of the group and others in the audience addressed commissioners. Audience members touted an improved quality of life and health benefits as reasons to approve the thread trail.
“I trust you will say yes to a better, happier and healthier Rowan County,” said Skinny Wheels Bike Shop Owner Eric Phillips.
Speakers said the Carolina Thread Trail, which would include wider shoulders on roads, could offer increased safety for bikers.
A presentation to commissioners about the greenway project followed the crowd of public speakers. It pointed out that all Rowan municipalities and multiple community organizations support the trail, and addressed concerns raised during previous compositions of county commissioners. The Carolina Thread Trail would include 107.8 miles of greenway space in Rowan, according to the presentation.
Beginning with trash and debris, Commissioner Craig Pierce offered several points of criticism about the trail.
“Who is gong to take care of the trash collection?” Pierce asked. “Where does that responsibility fall? What tax dollars are going to take care of this?”
He continued, saying the trail wouldn’t be free. Initial conception and approval of the master plan would be free, Pierce said, but eventually the county would have to provide money for the trail.
Pierce also criticized an argument made by County Commissioners Chairman Greg Edds, who said building the trails would help lure businesses and residents to Rowan.
“I have talked to several employers who said their No. 1 concern in relocating to any county is education, not a trail,” Pierce said. “Not a bike a trail or anything else. So, to make that statement is totally false.”
Randi Gates, a coordinator for the Thread Trail, addressed some of Pierce’s points, and said trash collection isn’t typically a significant issue.
Rowan’s three newest commissioners — Edds, Vice Chairman Jim Greene and Commissioner Judy Klusman — fired back at other arguments made by Pierce.
Rhetorically, Greene asked the number of other counties and Rowan municipalities who support the trail.
Klusman, referring to a recent health report for Rowan County, said giving greater access to trails could address health concerns and lower healthcare costs.
In a lengthy speech, Edds addressed all concerns — past and present — related to the thread trail. He started out by discussing eminent domain — government condemning private property and taking ownership.
“The Carolina Thread Trail has as much authority to exercise eminent domain as Waffle House has to start taking property on Innes Street,” Edds said. “They have no authority to exercise eminent domain. They are not a state authority, not a local authority. They are simply a visitor we are allowing on our property if we choose to do so.”
He said the thread trail wouldn’t be the primarly factor in luring big industry to Rowan, but could be an added bonus.
Half-jokingly, Edds suggested county commissioners vote to eliminate all public parks “if these type of things don’t matter.”
In 2009, Rowan County Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution stating it wouldn’t endorse, pursue or support the acquisition of private property for the development of greenways or public trails. Gates, likewise, said the thread trail doesn’t endorse eminent domain.
Following speeches by multiple commissioners, Mike Caskey said he wouldn’t be able to vote for the thread trail because of the potential for eminent domain in the future. Current commissioners may choose not to use eminent domain, but a future crop of county officials could, he said.
When commissioners ultimately approved the Carolina Thread Trail’s master plan for Rowan, the audience let out a loud applause in celebration.
Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.