Some Fort Lawn residents concerned about Thread Trail

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By Stephen Guilfoyle

CHESTER – Some Fort Lawn area residents raised objections at a recent Chester County Council meeting to the Carolina Thread Trail, a plan for free recreational walking and biking trails that will connect 15 counties in North and South Carolina.

Those objections have in part led to the announcement of a public forum set for 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Fort Lawn Community Center. The public is invited to attend and ask questions.

Additional public meetings will be held in October, according to Brad Jordan, a Chester County Council member and chairman of Chester County's Thread Trail Steering Committee.

"I'm glad that there are people interested in this so early, but there has been some misinformation," Jordan said Thursday.

Jordan said there was a rumor that Chester County would use eminent domain powers to take land for the trail. Thread Trail organizers have not asked Chester County to use eminent domain, Jordan said.

He said he would be against such a move.

The thread trail group has already changed the wording of a question on its Web site (www.carolinathreadtrail.org) that mentions the issue, trying to make it clear that local communities will establish the trails. The group hopes the trail system will be accomplished through willing public and private participation. No sites have been chosen for trails in the system yet.

But an abandoned 22-mile long CSX rail bed paralleling U.S. 21, from Great Falls through Fort Lawn and into York County, has been mentioned as the possible site of a trail in Chester County.

It's that trail that has some Fort Lawn residents concerned.

Besides their concerns about eminent domain, they've asked how the trail will be paid for.

Richard Blake of Thrailkill Road in Fort Lawn told Chester County Council members he was worried about the overall cost of the project, hiker safety, crime and the impact on development along U.S. 21.

He believes the highway will be four-laned in Chester County in the future, and the trail system might not fit future residential and commercial growth there. He believes the area has the potential to be the next Indian Land.

Blake said the CSX rail bed trail isn't within sight of the Catawba River. A trail closer to the river with a view would be more of a destination for hikers, he said.

Gloria Kellerhals, a Carolina Thread Trail steering committee member, agrees that a trail along the river and through Landsford Canal would be more appealing.

But a trail along the old CSX line is being discussed because there is an existing "rails-to-trails" grant program that gets federal and state money more easily to make use of abandoned rail lines.

People promoting eco-tourism for Great Falls were looking at the rail bed for a trail before the larger Thread Trail project was unveiled.

"Nothing has been decided," Jordan said during the recent council meeting. "It will be up to the citizens of Chester County to choose the routes and that has not been done yet. That will hopefully be done in October through public meetings and public input."

The thread trail can be viewed as a "green interstate system" of major trails created by connecting smaller trail systems throughout 7,300 square miles of the 15-county region. The system will link more than 40 destinations.

In Chester County, only a couple of official actions have occurred.

Chester County Council voted in January to support the concept of the Carolina Thread Trail. That vote allowed the county to get the $50,000 grant to do the master plan for greenways and trails. The county matched the grant with $5,000.

Kellerhals said there are some existing walking trails in and around the municipalities of Chester, Great Falls, Lowrys and Richburg. A long-range plan to connect schools, museums and state parks would be wonderful, she said.

Kellerhals said the trails would bring tourism to Chester County. Other places with similar trails have seen property values increase.

Kellerhals is hoping for a trail here to connect with the Palmetto Trail being developed to connect Oconee County to Charleston. Other possible trails are routes from the Sumter National Forest to Chester, which could connect to another trail through Lowrys, to Sharon and Brattonsville in York County, and on to Kings Mountain.

Kellerhals said trail routes will be set by the county residents who come to the master plan meetings in October.

The county can use the master plan for things other than the Thread Trail, and the county can rely on it for decades, she said.

She said some of the complaints she heard at the recent Chester County Council meeting were based on incorrect information.

The public meetings, including the one in Fort Lawn, will get out "the real information about The Carolina Thread Trail."

She said she wants residents "to become involved so that Chester County can move forward quickly and thoughtfully with this project."

To learn more about the Carolina Thread Trail, visit www.carolinathreadtrail.org.