Carolina Thread Trail, Nation Ford Land Trust celebrate milestones

mharrison@fortmilltimes.comNovember 12, 2012 

— There’s a celebration Saturday to mark the fifth anniversary of the Carolina Thread Trail, but that doesn’t mean the work is complete.

Far from it.

The ceremony in Davidson, N.C., from 10 to 11 a.m. at the West Branch Nature Preserve Trail, will include the placing of a 100-mile marker. Officials leading the effort to tie 15 counties in the Carolinas with a network of scenic trails are proud of what they accomplished so far, but stress that the continued support of the public and local governments along they way is needed to finish the project. When complete, the trail will stretch from Iredell County, N.C., down through Fort Mill and Lancaster all the way to Chester.

This initial stage is “a skeleton of where those trails would go with the idea that each local area would do spinoffs,” explains Murray White, chairman of the Nation Ford Land Trust. It’s a platform on which to build and officials want to keep the momentum going.

To date, the Carolina Thread Trail has secured $20.9 million in public funding, $16.8 million in private capital and $7.3 million in land donations, including the property where the Nation Ford Thread Trail runs through Fort Mill, according to data from the Catawba Lands Conservancy. The Nation Ford trail, which follows Sugar Creek from the Regent Park area, past Springfield and up to the Anne Springs Close Greenway near the Foxwood community, will be a gateway to the next phase, officials hope.

White said the plan is to connect the Nation Ford thread to Pineville, N.C. in one direction and through the ASCG to Baxter Village via Coltharp and Pleasant roads. From there, the trail will lead across the new Catawba River Bridge, which has a pedestrian lane, to the new Riverwalk Park on the Rock Hill side of the bridge. The Riverwalk trail will connect with another one in Rock Hill and continue further south.

“We are very close to having an inter-county and inter-state connection, which is significant,” White said.

The entire project has a decidedly local flavor. In addition to White, a Fort Mill resident and former York County Council chairman, NFLT recently named Janet Steele of Fort Mill as director of conservation and development. Steele has worked with NFLT, which has protected more than 9,000 acres of open space, as stewardship manager since 2003. She has a B.S. in forestry and wildlife and a M.S. in forest resource management.

“Janet will add a new dimension to the operation of NFLT as we continue to address our various goals as a land trust,” White said.

Also, Tega Cay resident and former York County Councilman Jeff Updike is NFLT’s longtime executive director.

One uncommon thread of the trail system, White said, is that “not all the trails look the same. Some are paved and are used by bike riders, some are more natural. It’s a variety.”

He also said that the thread trail system can power economic growth in all the areas it connects by luring tourists and making the communities along the way more attractive for high-end residential and retail development.

Plans for the not-too-distant future include finalizing deals with three major property owners, including developer Crescent Resources and a foundation that inherited prime real estate above the Catawba that was supposed to be turned into a museum emphasizing local history and the environment. The museum project is in abeyance following a series of stops and starts and an investigation into the foundation’s finances. Sections of the property were sold to a residential developer and to one of the bidders hoping to build Fort Mill’s first hospital off Sutton Road.

“We’ve had a lot of good things happen and there are a lot of good things in place already,” White said. “If you look at pieces of the big puzzle, there are not very many pieces left that need to be attended to. I think this is truly a great thing for this area.”

The public is invited to participate in Saturday’s celebration. For more information, call Nation Ford Land Trust Executive Director Jeff Updike at 547-8140 or go to nationfordlandtrust.org.

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