If you take a walk on the Catawba Indian Nation Greenway Trail, it’s a bit like walking back in time, a chance to see the woods, the river and landscape the way a Catawba might have seen them long before the first European settlers came to the area.
“You can see great vistas and views of the river the same as you could have seen them several hundred years ago,” said Travis Morehead, community coordinator with the Carolina Thread Trail, which helped sponsor the work on the new 1.6-mile trail that runs along the banks of the Catawba River inside the tribe’s eastern York County reservation.
Tribal members and volunteers with the Thread Trail will officially open the Greenway to the public Saturday. Volunteers, including Catawba Chief Bill Harris, will set out to do some final brush clearing along the trail around 9 a.m., before officials gather at the Catawba Cultural Center at noon for the official ribbon-cutting. There will then be a guided hike along the trail.
The Carolina Thread Trail, which is working to establish a network of trails, blueways and conservation corridors that stretches across 15 counties in North and South Carolina, gave the Catawba a $130,000 grant to complete work on the public trail running the length of the reservation.
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The tribe hopes the trail will attract visitors to not only take in the natural sights along the trail, but also learn something of the history and culture of South Carolina’s only federally recognized tribe.
“They will be able to come visit us at the Catawba Nation, which I think they will find is a good thing,” Chief Harris said. “But what they will also see as they walk along this trail, if they’re quite lucky, are the bald eagles that fly up and down the river. They will see the ospreys from time to time, and you will see the blue herons fishing. And if you’re very quiet, they can get fairly close to you.”
The Catawba Cultural Center, at 1536 Tom Stevens Road, will be open to the public both before and after the trail’s grand opening.
“There are several entrances to the trail. One is at our administrative center, but we thought the cultural center would be more interesting to the public,” said Elizabeth Harris, the community planner and spokeswoman for the tribe.
Sights along the trail will include a Catawba dwelling, a bark house, dugout trees, story circle and active archeological dig.
Most work on the trail was completed earlier this year, but the tribe had to wait to get the final piece put in place – a new pedestrian bridge connecting the northern and southern ends of the trail over Haggins Creek, a muddy tributary of the Catawba River.
“Getting the license and things worked out took months,” Elizabeth Harris said, “we finally got the bridge in place in late July, and then we just had to work with the Thread Trail to set a date for the ribbon cutting.”
Although Saturday is the official grand opening of the trail, enthusiastic hikers have already sought to take advantage of the trail since it was finished.
“We’ve already had several mountain bikers come out to experience the trail,” Elizabeth Harris said. “Any time you can increase the public’s exposure to the reservation, I think that’s a benefit to the Nation.”
The Greenway trail is just one part of what is envisioned by the Carolina Thread Trail to be a much larger footpath stretching across York County and beyond.
“We’re already working with the adjacent property owner to complete the trail,” Morehead said. “Our goal is to have 50 percent of the trail finished by 2017.”