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  • Writer's pictureGlinda Coleman

Great Falls Rail Bed Trail

A part of the Carolina Thread Trail

I have written a lot of narratives about trails, historic sites in the area and descriptions of what will be happening here in Great Falls over the next couple of years. I came across a narrative that describes the rail bed trail that will become a part of the Carolina Thread Trail. I remember when I first came to Great Falls about 20 years ago, one of the first things I did was talk with the railroad company that owned the abandoned rail bed about either purchasing or donating the land to the Town for a trail. The Town did not actually purchase the property until July 2021, almost 20 years after I started working on it. Railroad companies are notoriously slow – obviously.

Below is the story of how Great Falls, GFHTA and the Carolina Thread Trail has worked together to get this project off the ground.

The Town of Great Falls partnered with the Carolina Thread Trail (CTT) and Chester County to create a trail on an abandoned CSX rail bed that runs along the Catawba River and reservoirs. The trail will be the terminus/trailhead of the north/south spine of the multi-county, two-state trail system and the CTT has placed their highest priority on this corridor that will ultimately connect Great Falls to Statesville, N.C.

The purchase of the rail bed and due diligence paid for by the Town, Chester

County, CTT, and the Arras Foundation. Other partners include Catawba Regional Council of Governments and Katawba Valley Land Trust. The first phase of the construction project will be to make this 3.5-mile stretch of the rail bed walk-able and use-able for the public. Other funding will be sought to enhance the trail including branches off the main trail featuring beautiful vistas, interesting rock formations and spurs that will lead to a bridge that provides access to a proposed state park, a kayak launch, and other areas of interest. The trail will provide nature-based tourism opportunities to help revitalize the Great Falls economy. The length of the abandoned rail bed is 3.5 miles in length with a 100' ROW width (usable trail width on existing rail bed will be 10'-12'). The property is 42.08 acres according to a recently completed survey.

On either side of the rail bed the site is primarily forested coverage (80% hardwood, 20% pine). Remaining coverage consists of a short portion within a residential neighborhood -- approximately 1500 feet. The trail follows the Catawba River and the reservoirs that are a part of the Catawba- Wateree hydro-electric systems owned by Duke Energy. The north/south oriented trail has water on the majority of the western side. There are also several small creeks that empty into the Catawba basin.

The property is an abandoned rail line, and the trail will be on the existing rail bed. The initial goal of this phase of construction is to repair washed out areas and fill in low, wet areas to make the rail bed walkable. The rail bed base is in good shape for the most part and once the washed out or low areas are repaired the existing trail surface will be quite good. The rail bed corridor consists of a packed surface consistent with a rail bed constructed in the early 1900s.

All approved Best Management Construction practices will be implemented in this project. This includes measures aimed at erosion control and sediment runoff to protect the integrity of nearby water sources.

This is not intended for motorized use. Motor vehicles will be prohibited except for emergency vehicles that may be necessary for incidents.

This is considered to be a new construction project aimed at the conversion of a former rail corridor into a shared-use trail. The rails and ties were removed from the property years ago. The aim of the funding is focused on improvements to repair existing drainage and erosion problems that resulted from years of neglect since the CSX railroad has not been in operation since the late 80's. Additionally, surface improvements will be conducted throughout the corridor, such as removing vegetation, grading, and other efforts to ensure a cleared and consistent trail tread. The goal is to get the corridor to have basic functionality to allow users access to the trail. The desire is to improve the trail in subsequent phases to enhance the user experience such as additional surface materials and compaction, signage, fencing and other components. Currently, however, there is a need to focus on drainage improvements to provide structural integrity of the facility.

The trail will utilize the existing rail bed which already has the benefit of sound design and engineering. The RR facility was built with drainage infrastructure to best manage water runoff as well as solid base and sub-base layers to ensure durability. The corridor is located such that flood impacts are minimal.

Design will reflect best practices set by AASHTO, DOT, and ADA design manuals, which typically guide construction of shared-use bicycle and pedestrian facilities.

The trail will consist of a 10' wide compacted tread. Surface treatment will

consist of existing soils and fine stone, which provide a consistent surface for walkers and cyclists, as well as providing solid compaction that accommodates wheelchairs and does not allow wheels to countersink. As noted, drainage infrastructure and trail surface have been compromised after years of inactivity along the corridor. These problem areas are identified and will be the focus of new construction.

The Town of Great Falls will own and manage the trail. The Town will assume

responsibility for the integrity and safety of the trail. This includes structural as well as public safety. Additionally, management will be complemented by safety, maintenance, and educational programs led by partners such as the Town's police force, Chester County public works, and Duke Energy. Additionally, the Carolina Thread Trail, which has a robust volunteer component that consists of certified "Trail Masters" who can assist with maintenance activities. Moreover, the CTT volunteers will develop and lead programming events. Public participation in these events increase awareness of the trail. Hours of operation will be dawn to dusk. The trail will be open free-of-charge to the public - 365 days per year.

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May 09, 2023

Is this open yet? where is the trailhead to access it?


Aug 13, 2022

I, for one, am glad to see things happening in Great Falls! I love the Rail Trails and am a member of Rails to Trails Conservancy. Looking forward to riding the trail. Will it eventually connect with the Rocky Creek portion of the Palmetto Trail?

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