BELMONT — Over the river and through the woods won’t just be the way to grandmother’s house this Christmas. It’ll also be the way to a long-awaited connection to Lake Wylie’s shoreline.
Two years ago, Catawba Lands Conservancy partnered with Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden and the Clean Water Management Trust Fund to conserve a 77-acre Gaston County site known as the Seven Oaks Preserve. Included is a 2.8-mile stretch of trail connecting the garden and lake.
A volunteer cleanup Wednesday and Thursday will spruce the area up ahead of its Dec. 6 opening to the public. A trailhead with 18 parking spots is located at 6900 S. New Hope Road, completed in the last couple of weeks. The natural trail already is in place with construction ongoing in some spots. The main remaining task is to clear the property, hit particularly hard with debris by summer flooding.
“That was a low-lying part of the river, and with the flooding a lot of things collected in that area,” said Carmen Bray, communications director for Catawba Lands Conservancy.
The Seven Oaks section continues not only the trail system, but also the tradition of waterfront walkways. Current Thread Trail includes a 1.2-mile riverfront loop in Cramerton, 1.5 miles connecting Belmont and Cramerton, a riverfront mile in Mount Holly and 1.8 miles along Catawba Creek in Gastonia.
Last week Belmont City Council voted to annex the Seven Oaks property, including the new Thread Trail site. Planned are 810 new homes and commercial properties in the area in the next 10 to 12 years. Mayor Richard Boyce said bringing in features like the new trail makes the annexation valuable already.
“There are going to be some fairly immediate and tangible benefits,” he said.
Council expects an active community to grow up around the trail, where pedestrian walkways will be the norm. Councilman Bill Toole said drives and pathways lined with cherry trees will create a scenic area and a destination for residents on either side of the state line.
The Seven Oaks trail will stretch to the lake at one end and connect on its other with existing trails at the botanical garden. There are not restrooms along it, for the moment. In addition to the recreational impact, the trail and other conserved property around it will be a water quality and environmental benefit to the area, according to the conservancy.
“The preserve protects important sensitive areas around the lake and safeguards wildlife habitat for wild turkeys, turtles and native wildflowers,” Bray said.
When complete, Carolina Thread Trail will connect 15 counties and more than 2 million people in North and South Carolina. Since its 2007 launch, the trail system has opened more than 130 miles of trail. Gaston County locations to be connected by the completed system include Belmont Abbey College, Crowders Mountain State Park, Spencer Mountain and the garden, among others.