There are many ways to connect people and places in a community. Few have the added advantage of protecting fresh water supplies, providing natural places to commune with the outdoors, offering environmentally beneficial transport options, and creating economic growth. In the piedmont of North and South Carolina the Carolina Thread Trail will be over 1500 miles long and growing. The trail is an ambitious project that offers all of the above.
The blue star poised on CTT signs throughout central Carolina is a both familiar and exciting reminder that someday you’ll be able to walk, run, or ride your bike on a trail to most places throughout the region. One day, the Thread will connect more than 2 million citizens in 15 counties from both North and South Carolina. Already, 76 local communities are involved raising money, planning for, and building new miles of path.
The forward thinking project to create an extensive network of trails throughout the region was launched in 2007. The trail stretches from Iredell County in the North to Lancaster County down south and Cleveland County in the west to Anson in the east. All land for new trails construction has been purchased, collected by easements, or already owned by the city or county, none relying on imminent domain, and much of it has been donated by private and public philanthropists. The CTT works under its lead agency, the Catawba Land Conservancy, whose mission it is to “…save land and connect lives to nature”.
The Thread adopted much of the current system from existing trails. Under the guidance of the CTT, however, local communities have built 137 miles of new trail. The job is just beginning. Vanessa Gorr, Community Outreach Coordinator, says the goals of the next five years include:
- Completion of five contiguous miles in each of the 15 counties, giving local residents places for long walks and bike rides.
- Finish at least half of a 140-mile “North-South spine,” roughly paralleling the Interstate 77 corridor, from South Carolina to counties north of Charlotte. About 30 miles have been completed.
- Pay special attention to the South Fork Catawba River in Catawba, Lincoln and Gaston counties. The South Fork has also been a focus of the Catawba Lands Conservancy’s land protection work.
- Develop a 50-mile canoe and kayak “blueway” along the Rocky River east of Charlotte starting in Cabarrus County through the boarder of Union and Stanly County into Anson County where it meets up with the Pee Dee River.
The work of building trails relies heavily on volunteers. Some 4,000 hours of trail work have gone into the system so far. There are 9 public workdays each year and almost monthly private workdays. A formal trail master oversees each section of trail construction. These volunteers are trained by the CTT and are the backbone of the success of building new trail.
While the job of construction is important, the CTT actually does much more. “The Carolina Thread Trail is more about collaboration than about building trails,” says Gorr. “The collaboration is huge. They provide grants, assist in design and construction, support local fundraising efforts, and assist in county wide master planning. Much of this support is provided during the annual trail forum where experts and local leaders share their best practices. The goal is to kick start and guide the efforts of each of the 76 local communities so they can build and maintain sections of the trail.”
It takes a lot of financial support to make this happen and the CTT team are dedicated to using that support wisely. “Since the initial grant in 2007, the CTT applies every dollar raised by corporate and private donors directly into the project,” says Gorr. While corporate partners and grants from programs like the Clean Water Management Trust Fund provide much of the funds, individuals can take part by donating to the Trailheads membership group. The money raised is used to acquire land for trail, construct the trail, train volunteer Trail Masters, and support local communities in furthering their Carolina Thread Trail efforts.
There is one fundraising event each year. This year’s Tread The Thread 5K and 10K race will be held on May 3rd. Besides running on one of the newest additions to The Thread, the Buffalo Creek Preserve in Mt. Pleasant NC, your registration comes complete with food and beer! Live music and the good feeling you get by helping a worthy cause are also included. Registration is open now. And how cool is it to run a trail race that will actually help build more trail!
The success of the project doesn’t just rely on hard work. “The best way to help is to use the trails,” say Gorr. The trail system includes blueways, kayak/canoe accessible rivers, as well as natural and hard surface trail. To help you get started, the good people at The Carolina Thread Trail have put together an interactive map. Several new sections of trail will be opening this year. One of the most exciting will be the 1.75-mile section on the Pharr Family Preserve. This will include the first public kayak put-in on this section of the Rocky River so you can complete your own mini duathlon with a run and a row or a pedal and a paddle.
With almost 1,500 miles of trails there’s a lot to choose from. If you want a place to start, try one of Gorr’s favorites. She recommends the Four Mile Creek Greenway in Charlotte, NC and Buffalo Creek Preserve Trail in Mt. Pleasant, NC trails for a scenic walk or jog.
Get more info and more involved at: www.carolinathreadtrail.org