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Indian Land trail moves forward despite opposition

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By Reece Murphy

Reece Murphy
rmurphy@thelancasternews.com
Plans for an interstate community greenway and trail connecting Indian Land and Waxhaw is closer to becoming a reality though residents north of the state line aren’t as thrilled about the prospect as their neighbors in Lancaster County.
The Carolina Thread Trail is a regional network of trails that is expected to connect 15 counties in the Carolinas through nature trails dedicated to local recreation and land conservation.
Conceived in 2005 and launched in 2007, The Thread, as it’s known for short, consists of 59 community trails, including the Landsford Canal Trail and Rocky Creek Trail near Fort Lawn in Chester County and several others in York and Mecklenburg counties.
After years of talk about construction of a nature trail in the former Edenmoor subdivision, now Walnut Creek, County Council gave the planning department the go ahead Aug. 28 to apply for a grant that could make the first Lancaster County portion of The Trail a reality.
“The idea is to build a trail from Walnut Creek and run it to Waxhaw through the MillBridge neighborhood,” said outgoing Lancaster County Parks and Recreation Director Sherry Wilson last week. “The whole idea is to follow 12 Mile Creek (from Waxhaw-Marvin Road) to Walnut Creek Park.
“It’s going to increase the amenities of the park and offer more exercise opportunities for Lancaster County residents,” she said. “From a programing side, it’s going to offer opportunities for 5Ks and other events, bird watching, educational opportunities for kids, just endless possibilities.”
As proposed, the 5.5-mile trail would not only be the longest portion of The Thread to date, but the first to cross both state and county lines.
The Walnut Creek portion of the trail is 3.5 miles. The Trail will have several access points built into the trail. Parking will be available at the eastern end near the county’s new Parks and Recreation building, which will be ceded to the county along with the park as part of the Walnut Creek development contract.
Longtime Walnut Creek resident Wanda Rosa, who attended the County Council meeting with fellow resident Jan Tacy, said they’ve been hearing rumors of a nature trail being built since she moved into Edenmoor.
Rosa said she and other residents look forward to being able to use the trail to exercise, enjoy a walk in nature or simply sit on a park bench and relax with a good book.
With all the possibilities, Rosa said she was a bit surprised at the reaction of MillBridge residents during a public forum at the MillBridge clubhouse Aug. 23.
Though their neighborhoods are separated only by the state line, their attitudes about the project couldn’t have been more different.
“There was one fellow at the very beginning who was not happy,” Rosa said. “He said that it was going to run near the back of his house and that he hadn’t been told about it, and that we hadn’t been told about it over here, even though we had been.
“There were about 20 or so people from Walnut Creek that went over and I don’t think there was anyone among us who wasn’t for it,” she said. “I don’t know, there may be more of a feeling over there that there’s going to be all these people using the trail ... that they’re gong to be intruded upon.”
Town of Waxhaw Planner Katie Ross confirmed there were MillBridge residents at the meeting who were worried about the trail’s effect on crime and safety in the neighborhood.
She said those type of sentiments were common among homeowners in the initial stages of nearly any greenway development project, but that statistics show greenways and public trails are often safer than undeveloped woods because of the foot traffic it draws.
Once residents begin to see the value of the amenity, Ross said, their opposition often dissipates.
Ross said Waxhaw has begun soliciting comments on The Trail project from MillBridge residents and, with more people voicing support for the project than opposition, sentiments are already beginning to shift.
Still, Ross said the town of Waxhaw has decided to put the project on hold for now.
“That’s OK, we’re going to take it very slowly,” Ross said. “I think Lancaster County is going to be able to move forward with their part of the project.
“I think we’re going to move forward, if not this grant cycle, then the next, if the neighborhood is behind it,” she said. “The grant is due Oct. 19, and I don’t want anyone to feel left out either way it goes, that they haven’t been heard.”
Like Ross, Carolina Thread Trail Community Coordinator Travis Morehead said concerns about crime and strangers walking through the neighborhood are common, but he said the reality is that greenway projects improve neighborhoods.
Morehead said a study commissioned by The Trail’s lead agency, the Catawba Lands Conservancy several years ago, showed greenway amenities such as The Trail not only helped homeowners sell their homes faster, but increased their home’s value by as much as 4 percent.
Morehead said he hopes MillBridge and Waxhaw will move forward with their side of the project, but either way, their ultimate decision will not affect plans for the Walnut Creek trail.
“Absolutely not,” Morehead said. “There are two different pots of money, a pot for Union County and another for Lancaster County. They’re separate projects, so Lancaster County can go on regardless of what happens on the North Carolina side.”
Should Lancaster County’s grant be approved, which is likely, the county will receive $75,000 to pay for amenities such as park benches, signage and trash cans. The county will have to match 10 percent of the grant, or $7,500.
Private partnerships with the Catawba Lands Conservancy will pay for the costs of trail construction, Morehead and Lancaster County Administrator Steve Willis said.
Willis said the planning department is currently working on crafting the grant proposal and will report back to County Council during the Sept. 24 meeting.
Even if the grant is approved, Willis said funding for the county’s end of the grant likely won’t be approved until next fiscal year’s budget.
According to Willis, the Walnut Creek trail may not be the only Thread Trail on the local horizon. Willis said though the project is still in the conceptual stage, officials with the Carolina Thread Trail have begun discussions with the Katawba Land Trust about the possibility of building a trail along Gills Creek in Lancaster.
Meanwhile, Willis said, the construction of the Walnut Creek Trail will be a great addition to Indian Land and Lancaster County as a whole.
“It’s going to be a Lancaster regional thing,” Willis said. “Greenways in other parts of the area, Columbia and Charlotte, have been very popular, and this is another great recreational opportunity for our residents.”
For detail on the Carolina Thread Trail, visit www.carolinathreadtrail.org.

Contact reporter Reece Murphy at (803) 283-1151