Carolina Thread Trail to begin new phase of construction

bhenderson@charlotteobserver.comFebruary 22, 2014 

After years of planning, the Carolina Thread Trail has moved to a new phase in building out the 15-county trails network.

The Thread has a new director and a five-year plan to put trails on the ground in each county, develop its 140-mile “spine” and create its first paddling route.

Launched in 2007, the Thread envisions 1,400 miles of greenways and protected corridors that connect counties and places of interest. So far, 137 miles of trail have opened.

It’s led by Karl Froelich, who’s again putting his passion for trails to work after 30 years in the corporate world. He became director in October, succeeding Ann Browning.

Froelich spent years seeking out greenways wherever he traveled across the U.S. and in Europe. He says they connect people in ways the digital world can’t.

“When I get on trails, I feel better. The world just seems like a better place,” says Froelich, who has also worked on greenways for the Trust for Public Land, a national conservation group.

The Thread’s role is to help with planning, finding community grants and lending expertise in areas such as trail-building. It has raised more than $50 million in private funding, donated land and public grants.

The work depends heavily on volunteers – 540 people served 2,153 hours last year – but counts on communities to turn plans into reality.

Fourteen counties have completed trail master plans that draw from local plans crafted by 62 communities across the region.

Community meetings are underway in Rowan County, the final piece of the network.

Dr. Michael Goodman, a Salisbury oncologist and greenways enthusiast, said the Thread Trail’s benefits – exercise, connectedness and new ways to travel – clicked with him and others in the county. Towns and cities such as Landis are now taking the lead in developing trail plans, he said.

Goodman, who will join the Thread Trail board in May, expects Rowan County to finish a master plan in a few months.

“Like anything new you have to talk about it, but I think by now most people understand the benefits of a greenway,” Goodman said. “Now it’s less selling than it is getting it done.”

In Iredell County, the Girl Scouts’ Hornets Nest Council partnered with the Thread in building a two-mile trail on its 700-acre environmental-leadership property east of Statesville.

The trail follows the South Yadkin River and winds through 358 acres protected through the Catawba Lands Conservancy, the lead agency in developing the Thread. Scouts help maintain the trail, which opened in November.

Over the next five years, the Thread plans to:

• Build at least five continuous miles of trails in each of its counties, giving local residents places for long walks and bike rides. The Thread board will be expanded to include members from each county.

• Finish at least half of a 140-mile “North-South spine,” roughly paralleling the Interstate 77 corridor, from South Carolina to counties north of Charlotte. About 30 miles have been completed.

• Pay special attention to the South Fork Catawba River in Catawba, Lincoln and Gaston counties. The South Fork has also been a focus of the Catawba Lands Conservancy’s land protection work.

• Develop a 50-mile canoe and kayak “blueway” along the Rocky River east of Charlotte.

The Thread’s founders knew the work would take years, Froelich said. “I think it’s right where everybody thought it was going to be,” he said.

(NOTE: Story and headline updated at 10 a.m. Feb. 24, 2014, to clarify some construction has already been done.)

Henderson: 704-358-5051; Twitter: @bhender

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