Thermal Belt Rail Trail Brings Life Back to Historic Rail Corridor
Connecting Five Communities Through Trail Development
McGill has been working with the Thermal Belt Rail Partners (Town of Forest City, Town of Rutherfordton, Town of Ruth, Rutherford County, and the Town of Spindale) on the Thermal Belt Rail Trail, a 13.5-mile-long trail that will connect multiple communities throughout Rutherford County. The project includes converting an abandoned rail corridor into a public multi-use trail. The railroad was once a very important part of these communities and this trail commemorates its history. It travels by several historical sites, including the Bechtler Mint historic park, the former Florence Mill, Stonecutter Mill, Lakeside Mills, and a section of the Overmountain Victory Trail.
McGill was first retained in 2017 to prepare a master plan for the Thermal Belt Rail Trail project. Through public outreach and participation, steering committee guidance, and careful review of existing planning documents, the firm produced the facility and programming goals. From this information, McGill then completed a master plan that created a linear park for the County’s growing population. The project includes two phases: Phase 1 (the removal of crossties and rails), and Phase 2 (the construction of the trail). Construction is expected to begin mid-June 2018 and to be finished in the late fall.
Benefits to the Community
One of the many benefits of the multi-use corridor development include connecting the adjacent communities of Forest City, Spindale, Rutherfordton, Ruth, and Gilkey. Pedestrians will be able 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 will provide many small satellite parks, trail heads, educational opportunities, exercise stations, and other pedestrian-oriented amenities. The planned improvements will help to meet the anticipated demand for existing and future recreational facilities. The goal of this trail is to not only to connect communities, beautify the area, and improve citizens’ health and well-being, but also to attract tourists and boost economic development along the trail, with the possibility of bike rentals and restaurants. The project is being funded through a 4.25-million-dollar grant from the RHI Legacy Foundation.
Keith Webb, PE, the Principal Engineer for the Thermal Belt Rail Project who has worked in this area for over 20 years, said that “this project reflects the highest level of intergovernmental cooperation and common purpose that we have ever seen.” McGill is excited to be a part of this project that will benefit so many important communities.