Additional segments of the Carolina Thread Trail (CTT), a 15-county network of greenways, trails and corridors throughout North and South Carolina, are slated for completion this year in Lincoln County.
Established in 2005 by the Foundation for the Carolinas, the CTT is an ongoing project designed to extend 1,500 miles across the two Southern states, once completed.
With no date set for the large-scale effort’s achievement, the process has been slow and tedious, requiring significant donations, grants and other private funding over the years.
The process has also required the cooperation of area landowners, who are willing to place conservation easements on their properties, according to CTT officials.
Easements are agreements between a government agency or land trust preventing property from being used in ways that will disrupt its conservation value, according to landtrustalliance.org.
“This process (land acquisition) involves working one-on-one with willing landowners,” Randi Gates, CTT community coordinator and grants director, said. “Sometimes we can reach out to a landowner and get a meeting set up fairly quickly…Once you have a landowner on board, it can take a few months to get an easement recorded. There are surveys, appraisals, etc. involved.”
To date, more than $3.5 million in private grant money has been awarded to various communities among the 15-county system.
The funds have served as “catalytic funding for trail design and construction and land acquisition,” Gates said, and have mostly been used to match grants and funds for certain segments of the CTT network.
Currently, more than 70 local governments and at least 76 communities are involved in the collaborative effort.
Each community maintains a master plan for the trail segments mapped out in its individual area. The CTT map also allots an average of 100 miles of trail per county.
Today, nearly 140 miles of CTT is available for public access throughout the Carolinas; Lincoln County alone offers 5.6 miles.
Completed trail segments in the county include the Marcia H. Cloninger Rail Trail, the South Fork Rail Trail, Ramseur’s Mill Trail, the trail at Sally’s YMCA, Highland Park Trail and the East Main Street / N.C. 27 Sidewalk Connector.
However, more than 70 miles of land has been adopted for use as Thread Trail in Lincoln County, one of six counties in the CTT network that comprises the Catawba Land Conservancy’s protected property, CTT officials said.
One of the chief purposes of the CLC is to promote and preserve local agriculture and farming.
A total of 25 properties have been conserved thus far in Lincoln County.
According to Suzanne Sellers, a director on the CTT’s Governing Board, using conserved land to establish trails just seems like the natural thing to do.
“Once you have conserved land, an ideal thing is to put trails on it,” she said.
Sellers noted she is proud to live in a county with such a focus on trail promotion. She’s also traveled on each of the county’s available trail segments, a majority of which are in Lincolnton.
Sellers also heads Wandering Around Lincoln County (WALC), a group formed in 2012 to support and advance conservation and trail work in Lincoln County.
She feels the land areas are good for biking, running and walking — increasing citizens’ quality of life — and also showcase nature and the historical relevance of certain community landmarks.
Each month, she and CLC’s Chief Executive, David Clark, Jr., meet with the leadership group to determine how to maintain and preserve the trails already in existence in the county and promote them to local congressmen — a number of whom are WALC members — who will, in turn, lobby to state Congress about the benefits of the CTT network.
Trail Masters, citizen volunteers trained through a specific CTT program, also greatly assist in maintaining area trails.
Jason Harpe, head of the Lincoln County Historical Association (LCHA), serves as one of the local Trail Masters.
He said he took the course to not only learn more about trail building and maintenance but to also determine which historic landmarks, which he encounters through his LCHA work, have trail potential.
“We not only help lead trail workdays,” Harpe said, “but we also help provide assessments of trails in our area to ensure that they are maintained. We complete periodic assessments of the trails that we are assigned so that CTT staff can stay abreast of the trails’ conditions.”
The community needs about 25 consistent volunteers to work trails in Lincoln County, Sellers noted.
In addition to recreation and leisure, the CTT’s rural routes benefit the community economically, enticing developers to build residential and commercial property around them.
“Trails have been identified as the No. 1 amenity that people want to see when they are moving into a community,” Gates said.
Sellers further commented on the economic value of trails.
“It makes a county more inviting to developers to place communities here,” she said, “and increases the land value of people who are close to it, and makes corporations choose to build in those counties.”
Of the 20 miles of CTT currently in the pipeline for near-term completion, Gates said, Lincoln County plans to add 2.2 miles in additional trail later this year.
Plans for more miles in the county are in the works for beyond 2014 as Thread Trail and Land Conservancy officials “work with supportive landowners to acquire land and/or easements,” Gates said.
While the CTT vision started out as a simple 500-mile project, it has now grown to epic proportions, one day connecting 2.3 million people to parks, historic landmarks and other places of interest throughout the Carolinas.
For more information on the Carolina Thread Trail or how to get involved, contact Randi Gates at email@example.com or (704) 376-2556. Individuals may also visit carolinathreadtrail.org.