Town of Forest City, NC
Thermal Belt Rail Trail
In 2017, McGill was hired to prepare a master plan for the Thermal Belt Rail Trail project. This trail connects multiple communities throughout Rutherford County by converting an abandoned rail corridor into a public multi-use trail. McGill assisted the Rail Trail Partners (Spindale, Rutherfordton, Ruth, Forest City, Rutherford County) with a presentation of the project to the RHI Legacy Foundation who provided $4.25 million of funding for the project. Our team also used the Thermal Belt Rail Trail Master Plan to help the Town of Forest City secure a North Carolina Parks and Recreation Trust Fund grant to help finance the implementation of the recreation improvements in the vicinity of their Park Square project at Florence Mill and adjacent to the rail trail.
The Rail Trail Partners recognized the importance of converting an abandoned rail line into a public pedestrian multi-use trail to connect adjacent communities, improve access, and provide recreational facilities. The Town of Forest City lead the way and secured approval from the National Surface Transportation Board for a 99-year lease for the rail corridor.
A steering committee was formed to serve as oversight and assist with developing recommendations of the project during the planning process. Through public outreach and participation, steering committee guidance, and careful review of existing planning documents, facility and programming goals were created. From this information, a master plan was designed that created a linear park for the Rail Partners growing population. The proposed 13.36-mile multi-use corridor would connect the adjacent communities of Forest City, Spindale, Rutherfordton, Ruth, Gilkey, and portions of Rutherford County. Pedestrians can walk or bike to a number of local destinations, such as residential neighborhoods, downtown shopping areas, schools, and recreational facilities. Along with connectivity, the trail provides small satellite parks, trail heads, educational opportunities, and other pedestrian-oriented amenities. The planned improvements meet the anticipated demand for existing and future recreational facilities.
The goal of the trail is to not only connect communities, beautify the area, and improve citizens’ health and well-being, but also to attract tourists and boost economic development, with the possibility of bike rentals, restaurants, and other support businesses. Anticipated project benefits include the creation of a premier linear park and outdoor recreational facility to improve the health and wellness of the community and create a vital non-vehicular link between Rail Trail Partners communities, aimed at spurring tourism and developing a regional destination.
“This project reflects the highest level of intergovernmental cooperation and common purpose that McGill has ever seen.”