The Polk County Community Foundation has pledged a $250,000 grant toward the Saluda Grade Trail—the first major grant toward purchase of the rail corridor and trail development in North Carolina. The grant is also a powerful expression of community support.
A coalition of three nonprofits—Conserving Carolina; PAL: Play, Advocate, Live Well; and Upstate Forever—are currently in negotiations to purchase the historic Saluda Grade for a 31-mile rail trail. While the South Carolina legislature has appropriated funding toward the trail in that state, this grant is the first major step toward funding land acquisition, trail development, and related costs on the North Carolina side.
Sherry Carter, the board chair of the foundation, says, “The mission of the Polk County Community Foundation is to improve the quality of life for all of our citizens, and we believe this project will do just that, for generations. Our board voted unanimously to support the trail, which has game-changing potential for building a stronger, healthier, more connected community.”
Conserving Carolina’s executive director Kieran Roe says, “We are deeply moved by the foundation’s leadership in providing such meaningful support at the very start of our campaign to create the Saluda Grade Trail. This is not only an important financial contribution, but a testament to the value that this trail will provide for our local community.”
Carter further says, “The foundation prioritizes funding programs, events, and spaces that bring community members together and help form connections among neighbors. In addition to all of the known health and economic benefits, we see this project as a tangible way to connect our community. That comes from neighbors interacting with each other while enjoying the trail and from the physical connection it will create between Saluda, Tryon, Landrum, and the whole of Polk County. It is, inherently, building community.”
She adds, “We know that some of our fellow residents will have questions and concerns about how this may change our community. However, many of the board members of the Foundation have experienced firsthand the positive impacts of similar rails-to-trails projects and that was an important part of our deliberations.”
This grant builds on earlier vital support for project planning. Last year, Conserving Carolina received a $200,000 appropriation from the State of NC’s Complete the Trails Fund to explore the feasibility of the Saluda Grade Rail Trail.
The Saluda Grade Trail would begin in Inman, SC (north of Spartanburg) and pass through Campobello, Landrum, Tryon, and Saluda before reaching Zirconia, NC (south of Hendersonville.) This route features scenic rural landscapes, charming small towns, historic landmarks, unique nature preserves, and gorgeous lakes and waterfalls.
Like other popular rail trails such as the Virginia Creeper Trail and Swamp Rabbit Trail, the Saluda Grade Trail would be a dramatic win-win for local communities. Among its numerous benefits, it would strengthen the local economy, expand opportunities for outdoor recreation, and improve public health.
The proposed route includes about 16 miles in South Carolina and 15 miles in North Carolina. Donations toward the North Carolina section of the trail can be made through Conserving Carolina.