Editorial: More hard feelings than needed for trail network’s adoption

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 7, 2021

It all seems like a little bit much today.

Both in 2009 and in 2015, eminent domain became a significant concern among county commissioners opposed to passing a master plan for the Carolina Thread Trail. The worry was that government would forcibly annex a person’s land into the new trail network. Trash, safety and costs took a more prominent role during the 2015 debate.

Today, Rowan County counts itself as part of the Carolina Thread Trail network, and it’s largely been a quiet five years. That things have been slow is just fine, says Bret Baronak, director of the thread trail. It wasn’t meant to be, Baronak told Post reported Ben Stansell for a story published Friday.

Yes, people should not have their property forcibly annexed to be part of a park or trail network, but that’s never been a realistic concern. A park is not a necessity for the public good, as former Commissioner Raymond Coltrain said during a meeting on Oct. 19, 2009.

Similarly, former Commissioner Tina Hall said rumors had given the thread trail a bad reputation in Rowan County.

“I was quite surprised to learn that they had no interest in forcing anything on anybody,” Hall said, recalling a conversation with a representative of the Carolina Thread Trail. “And I told the gentleman, ‘You’ve certainly gotten the black eye in Rowan County. I said, ‘Right off the get-go, there was an idea that you were going to be coming in and forcing something on our property owners.”

Hall said she supported the resolution, but that the trail network’s intention was not to forcibly annex land. Like then-commissioner Carl Ford, Hall said he was worried documents had been pre-produced assuming Rowan County would join and that the network was “counting their chickens before they were hatched” — a fair point, but not an indication of a desire to use eminent domain.

“The Carolina Thread Trail has as much authority to exercise eminent domain as Waffle House has to start taking property on Innes Street,” Commissioners Chairman Greg Edds said during a July 7, 2015, meeting when commissioners voted, 3-2, to approve the trail’s master plan.

Today, Commissioner Craig Pierce’s concerns about cost and upkeep are still reasonable. The creation and upkeep of the trails haven’t been and won’t be free. Pierce said no one could answer questions in 2015 about whose responsibility it would be to maintain, and that’s because it’s mostly the responsibility of local governments. Pre-existing sections of trail added to the network following its passage are maintained by local government staff and local tax dollars have been and will be used to create or maintain new trails, but it’s worth noting these are not major items in the county budget.

Similarly, the passage of the Carolina Thread Trail generated more hard feelings than it needed to. It was fine for commissioners to make clear their positions on eminent domain, but elected officials, government staff and the public will a say on where and when trails are created. Barring monumental changes in the political preferences of Rowan County’s voters, forcibly annexing someone’s land for a trail isn’t a concern now or the future.

We’re going to need a few long walks on trails when the pandemic is over.