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The trail will provide recreation and nature-based tourism opportunities not only as a means to address public health, but also as a catalyst to revitalize the economy in Great Falls.  Communities throughout the region have “reinvented” themselves through outdoor recreation to create new and niche businesses. This trail will also allow Great Falls to capitalize on the development of the proposed State Park which is part of the plan for pedestrian access to the island on which the park will be located via a bridge to be constructed by Duke Energy. 

Triumphant Hiker

The Town of Great Falls partnered with the Carolina Thread Trail (CTT) to create the terminus/trailhead of the north/south spine of the multi-county, two-state trail endeavor in Great Falls. The Carolina Thread Trail has placed their highest priority on this corridor that will connect Great Falls, S.C. to Statesville, N.C. A key component of this project is the purchase of the abandoned CSX rail bed that is about 3.5 miles long primarily within the Town limits of Great Falls. Money has been dedicated to the purchase of the property from the Town, Chester County, and CTT, but before the Town can obtain the deed, they must enter into a Voluntary Cleanup Agreement with South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCHDEC) which entails performing Phase I and Phase II testing to determine if and/or what contaminants may be on the site. The due diligence activities are absolutely required for the purchase of the property. The Town received the deed to the trail in late July 2021 after all testing was completed. Only a small portion of the railbed had any significant contaminants and an EPA grant has been applied for to remedy the situation. 

The Catawba Regional Council of Governments received a federal grant to help in testing textile mill sites in their region. There was funding to include the Phase I portion of the testing for the Thread Trail project but not for the Phase II portion. The Town of Great Falls is applied for a grant from Arras Foundation to help with the Phase II testing, which is part of the due diligence needed as the Town enters into a contract with CSX to purchase the abandoned rail line. Through grants, we are seeking funding for a survey of the property, for the closing costs related to the purchase, and a time extension fee. The Arras Foundation paid for all of this. 

The 3.5 miles of rail trail will be widely accessible for all abilities and ages, free of charge. More than half of Great Falls residents fall within the range of low to moderate income and this recreation opportunity will give everyone a chance to enjoy the natural beauty of the area. It will be an area where families can enjoy the outdoors as well as a resource for schools to study the environment and sciences. It will promote a healthy lifestyle for both residents and visitors. The trail will help in preserving the green space and natural beauty of the area along the Catawba River. Public health statistics show that this area of South Carolina has a high rate of obesity and there is a need to provide active living experiences.

A study completed by Clemson University for the Town of Great Falls in 2019 shows that there is a lack of active and healthy living activities in the community. With the advent of the COVID-19 virus, there has been unprecedented importance placed on the need for physical and mental well-being. Trails provide that opportunity and the Carolina Thread Trail system, as well as trails from across the nation, have seen a profound increase in usage. Although a COVID vaccine may be developed, the need for outdoor recreation and active living will continue to be critical for physical and mental well-being. 

In 2009, when Chester County completed the Trail Master Plan for the Carolina Thread Trail, which was formally adopted, it became evident that Great Falls would be an important part of the overall plan for the two-state, 15-county project in South and North Carolina. Nearly 20 years ago, Great Falls identified the importance of the rail corridor to trails in the area and the overall nature -based tourism initiative that was the focus of the Great Falls Home Town Association (GFHTA) as an economic development plan to revitalize the former textile economy. Ultimately, it became the economic development focus of the Town of Great Falls. The Town had been in economic decline since the late 1980s.

Former U.S Representative John Spratt was shown the nature-based tourism economic development plan for Great Falls in 2004 and his comment was that the rail bed would be the key to developing the area for recreation. Since then GFHTA and the Town of Great Falls have worked with the railroad and other organizations to realize the vision.

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Hiking with Poles
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This abandoned rail bed is essential in connecting all the pieces of the nature-based tourism elements that Great Falls has worked with as an economic development platform for the area. A state park is proposed for the islands in the Cedar Creek Reservoir (Stumpy Pond) and this trail will link the park to the other elements including the whitewater, kayak access to the reservoirs as well as being an essential part of the Carolina Thread Trail. Also, the trail will provide non-motorized access to the future state park as a corridor to a pedestrian bridge to the island. A Visitor’s Center is planned for the town and will connect directly to the trail and be the office for the state park. The Town’s proposal to renovate the Company Store building, located in downtown Great Falls, will be on the Chester County One-cent Sales Tax Referendum in November and if it passes work can begin on the building by mid to late 2021. 

The Town of Great Falls is preparing for whitewater recreation that is being built by Duke Energy as part of the Catawba-Wateree Relicensing. The project will be completed in 2022. 

Partnerships will continue to be important to the success of the Thread Trail in Great Falls. Ongoing partnerships with Carolina Thread Trail, Duke Energy, Chester County, Catawba Regional Council of Governments, Great Falls Home Town Association, Katawba Valley Land Trust, and other non-profits and state agencies such as South Carolina Parks, Recreation and Tourism and South Carolina Department of Natural Resources will make Great Falls poised for success from today into the future. 

The completion of this project will allow the citizens of Great Falls and the surrounding area access to the beautiful natural resources of the region, the opportunity to engage in healthy outdoor activities, and revitalize the economy of this gorgeous corner of Chester County.

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