A new rail trail along the route of the historic Saluda Grade railroad received significant funding in the newly passed NC state budget. The budget includes $12 million over two years to purchase the portion of the rail corridor in North Carolina. This is in addition to the $15 million appropriated in South Carolina to purchase the rail corridor in that state.
The budget states that the purpose of the funding is “to take advantage of an unprecedented opportunity for the citizens of North Carolina to celebrate 2023 as the Year of the Trail and enhance the reputation of North Carolina as the Great Trails State by acquiring the Saluda Grade rail corridor for conversion into the Saluda Grade Trail.”
Kieran Roe, executive director of Conserving Carolina, says, “We are grateful for this major investment in the Saluda Grade Trail, so this unused rail line can once again serve as a vital asset for our communities. Norfolk Southern is ready to sell the railroad corridor and this proposed funding would allow us to seize this opportunity for our communities and our state. The Saluda Grade Trail has extraordinary potential to benefit our local economies, outdoor recreation, and health.”
The funding goes toward the purchase of the rail corridor, although additional funding will be needed to complete the purchase and build the trail. Donations to the Saluda Grade Trail can be made through saludagradetrail.org.
The Saluda Grade Trail is a proposed 31.5-mile rail trail that would pass through scenic countryside and vibrant downtowns. It would extend from Inman, SC and pass through Campobello, Landrum, Tryon, and Saluda, before reaching Zirconia, NC. The trail would be a destination rail trail, similar to the Swamp Rabbit Trail or Virginia Creeper Trail, as well as a treasured asset for local communities. The trail would be a linear park, accessible to people of all abilities and open for walking, running, biking, and other forms of outdoor recreation.
The trail includes approximately 16 miles in North Carolina and 15.5 miles in South Carolina. The trail is spearheaded by the Saluda Grade Trail Conservancy, a coalition of three nonprofits—Conserving Carolina in North Carolina and PAL: Play, Advocate, Live Well and Upstate Forever and in South Carolina.
The Saluda Grade Trail Conservancy has begun an in-depth study of the trail’s economic impact and is seeking public input on the vision for the trail. The community is invited to participate in public input sessions from 5:30-7:30 on October 17 at the Inman Public Library and October 19 at Polk County High School. More information about these sessions and other ways to provide input can be found at saludagradetrail.org.