More than 2 million people in 15 counties could be connected to dozens of destinations on a 7,300-square-mile Carolina highway without traffic jams.
This "green interstate," dubbed the Carolina Thread Trail, will use public and private money to link existing regionally significant trails and attractions with trails and greenspace.
York, Chester and Lancaster are among 15 central North and South Carolina counties that could receive grants to join its greenspace with an interconnected trail system.
"The hope is to have a trail to walk from here to downtown Charlotte," said Murray White, founder of Nation Ford Land Trust. "Eventually and hopefully, we'll have trails on the sides of the (Catawba) river and into Rock Hill."
York is one of the two pilot counties where the project could start, said Dave Cable, executive director of Catawba Land Conservancy and Carolina Thread Trail.
The trail also could pass through Anson, Cabarrus, Catawba, Cherokee, Cleveland, Gaston, Iredell, Lincoln, Mecklenburg, Rowan, Stanly and Union counties in the Charlotte region.
"It's a grass-roots project," said Cecily Durrett, trail outreach coordinator. "Grants that get the community involved in their parts of the project make it manageable at a local level; giving each community fate over their own property."
Realizing an idea
The idea started with a 1990s multicounty and state Voices and Choices program and progressed through Foundation for the Carolinas' 18-month discovery process, Cable said.
The Catawba Lands Conservancy, the Trust for Public Land and the foundation have been working with governments and communities in the footprint of the trail for two years.
"We're right at the point of moving from planning to implementation phase," Cable said.
Legs of the greenway, or undeveloped land preserved for environmental protection, should grow together. Key connections between them could unfold during the next few years and be completed during the next 10 to 20 years.
The name for the trail, Carolina Thread Trail, is taken from the textile industry that's been historically prominent in the region, White said.
Executing a plan
The pilot counties, York and Gaston County, N.C., were selected based on readiness.
"Initial meetings this month will hopefully inspire communities to come together and submit a joint application for a grant for a publicly adopted greenway plan," Cable said.
The target is to get these counties grant money by early next year and to start laying trails there later in 2008 and 2009, Cable said.
"We want to get some miles on the ground and create a concept people can see," Cable said.
Harold Shapiro, executive director of the Catawba Council of Governments, said it's too early to tell what the York County impact of the trail will be.
"There aren't any specific proposed trails or alignments yet," Shapiro said. "Part of the thread trail project is to provide expert and technical help to plan trails, if the communities want the help. It's purely a voluntary project."
An early November invitation-only lunch is the formal kickoff for the project. There, partnerships and expected contributions from Duke Energy and others will be announced, Durrett said.
Financing a trail
Community participation is key to creating this regional asset, Cable said.
Private and public money could be administered to the communities through grants, but how the trails unfold is up to the community.
"We don't want it to be top-down," Cable said. "We don't know the extent of the trail system. It's up to communities to place trails and its amenities."
Building the trail could cost from $100,000 to $600,000 per mile, depending on its size and intricacies. A rough project estimate is between $100 million and $150 million over 10 to 15 years, Cable said.
A concept map for the project doesn't show potential trails going through Chester County or much of York County, but White said that could change.
"You have to be very conceptual with the map. If it gets too defined at this point, you get people upset about trails going through their property when it's not finalized," White said.
The York County portion of the trail could include stops at the Anne Springs Close Greenway, Carowinds, the Catawba Cultural Center, Historic Brattonsville and Kings Mountain State Park.
Chester County destinations could include Chester State Park and Sumter National Forest.
Lancaster County's section could connect to Flat Creek Natural Area, 40 Acre Rock Heritage Preserve, Hanging Rock Battleground, and Andrew Jackson, Deerborn Island, Lake Wateree or Landsford Canal state parks.
The Carolina Thread Trail, a proposal to connect 15 N.C. and S.C. counties, will:
• Support economic prosperity by attracting and retaining new employers to the area;
• promote tourism;
• foster the joining of diverse communities;
• serve as an alternative means of transportation;
• encourage healthy lifestyles;
• aid in fresh air and clean water preservation;
• promote conservation of nature and wildlife habitats;
• increase awareness and visitation of cultural and historical venues;
• create a sustainable Carolinas legacy for generations to come; and
• connect children to nature