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Rail-to-trail conversion

Future Projects
  • Carolina Thread Trail: The Carolina Thread Trail is a proposed regional network of greenways and blueways that will stretch across 15 counties in the foothills.  CVHA is proud to support this project and will assist in the planning of the layout of the trail and connecting trails in the Catawba Valley.  
  • Newton Heritage Greenway: This Greenway provides a wonderful walking trail for Newton's residents and visitors.

The Catawba Valley Heritage is currently engaged in numerous activities which are furthering the aims of its mission:

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Proposal for the Newton Heritage Trail and Greenway
(Text of presentation to Newton Board of Aldermen by Kenyon Kelly 5/97)
Newton is a wonderful place to live and work. We have a special character that has remained intact as the area has grown over the past 250 years. We have managed to preserve much of what makes our community unique. I am delighted to be here to tell you about a project that has the potential to make Newton more attractive and will improve the quality of life for all our citizen's. This project is called the Newton Heritage Trail.

This Trail would originate in the heart of city and would pass many of our venerable historic structures. From there the sidewalk trail would move out to the greenway loop encircling the perimeter of town. This system of bicycle/walking trails would be off limits to motor vehicles. As such it promises to make our town safer for those who choose these modes of transportation whether for recreation, commuting to and from work and school or shopping.

The word Heritage was chosen because of its various connotations. First, there are many important historic structures and places which constitutes our cultural heritage.

Secondly, heritage refers to the land and its uses. The abundant natural resources provided the foundation for early development in this region.

There is much to be proud of in Newton. This project will assure that the character of our community will remain intact well into the new millennium. I ask you to consider endorsing the ideas put forth here tonight. With your support we can, with the help of City staff, State engineers and other professionals put the details of the plan on paper and come back to you for final approval before implementation.


The Newton Heritage Trail is based on the original open space and recreation plan which was recommended by the Newton Planning and Zoning Commissions and approved by the Board of Aldermen in 1988. In the ten years since the idea was first presented there has been no progress towards the completion of this plan. The decision was made to form an independent citizen's council to develop support from with in the community and identify sources of funding for the project. The members of this council are committed to the fulfilling the goals of this plan and are in the process of forming a non-profit corporation to facilitate tax-exempt donations of monies and property. After project completion the trail system will be transferred to the City to be maintained as part of the City's park system.

The purpose of trail is to provide enhancement of existing transportation routes or the creation of new routes which are designed to improve pedestrian and biking services. The Newton Heritage Trail will offer a self-guided tour of significant historical sites within the city. The Trail will originate at the Old Railroad Depot in North Newton. A welcome center located within the Depot will display a map of the route and provide brochures to guide walkers on their tour. There will be signs along the route to identify points of interest and provide directions. The project will take advantage of improvements to sidewalks currently underway and a planned extension of sidewalk on West A Street to the crosswalk at Hwy 321. The Trail will then follow the proposed sidewalk along Radio Road and turn onto the County Government complex and follow the Piedmont Natural Gas pipeline right-of-way down to Hildebran creek. At this point the trail will follow the City's water main right-of-way on the first phase of the proposed greenway loop.


There a several reasons for having a trail system and for preserving open space: Aside from the benefits of an alternative commuter route to work and retail establishments there are numerous recreational uses of a trail system including walking, hiking and biking as well as bird watching and other outdoor activities. Historic & cultural resources connected by a trail system offer trail users special interest features which enrich the experience and provide background history relating to the development of the region. These marketable assets can promote tourism as users travel to the area then choose to shop, eat and find lodging in area establishments. This in turn will directly benefit the local economy.

Educational institutions will greatly benefit from this resource: grade school science classes could take advantage of the trails close proximity. College horticulture and Environmental science programs will find the trail invaluable. As well the cooperative extension service and the State forestry service can utilize the open space for training and stewardship programs.

Natural resource conservation is another goal of the open space plan: Wooded areas near streams provide a buffer which helps reduce soil erosion and mitigate pollution runoff from roads and other developed areas. Protection of flood plans and wetlands assures critical flood control and aquifer recharge which are essential for protecting water quality. Protecting natural areas especially along stream beds (riparian) provide essential habitats for wildlife. Furthermore these open areas provide corridors connecting habitats and breeding grounds which are critical for assuring genetic diversity among species. In the final analysis of an open space / trail plan these many factors and more are integrated to assure an improved quality of life for our community.

Benefits to the City

There numerous elements of this plan which will benefit the City both from an economic standpoint as well as improved City services. First and foremost is the issue of public safety. Improved transportation routes reserved expressly for pedestrian and bicycle use combined with appropriate signage will greatly improve the safety of these activities. The greenway trail routes would be patrolled by public safety officers on bicycles. Studies have shown that crime is actually reduced in communities which are adjacent to greenway do to the fact that the tails become a focal point and as such help to promote community development.

The access points for the trails would be equipped with barricades that could be unlocked to provide access for emergency vehicles to either assist trail users or to provide alternative routes in the event of disaster or blocked thoroughfares. Furthermore, the corollary protection flood planes and watersheds will reduce property damage in the event of floods and will insure the normal recharging of water table and aquifer.

Economic Development

The Newton Heritage Trail will help promote the downtown area as it draws attention to the many historic and cultural resources it has to offer. The trail system will contribute to the quality of life factors which can be leveraged to attract new residents and recruit new businesses to the area. Studies have shown that greenway trails increase property value significantly in some cases as much as 33%. Will the cost of maintaining a trail system is less than 3% of the total cost of regular parks. These factors will contribute to and increase in the tax-base and provide greater revenue for the City.


There are numerous sources of funding for this type of project. Federal appropriations are available through State agencies. For example the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) has been reauthorized for another five years and is available through the Department of Transportation. The Nation Park Service and the Nation Forest Service offer grants for urban parks and forestry projects. The State's Clean Water Management Trust Fund is also a valuable source of funding for protection of water quality. There are numerous Foundations which provide grants to assist communities in developing trails and open space protection. It is anticipated that this project will gain the support of the local business community and that there will be considerable financial support generated from individual citizens to match these other sources of funding.

Endorsements (Organizations listed for identification only)

  • Ann Gaither - Board Representative NCDOT(former)
  • Stine Isenhower - N.C. Representative(former)
  • Tom Warlick - Chair, Newton Depot Authority Board
  • Jerry Hodge - President, Catawba County Chamber of Commerce & publisher O-N-E
  • Tom Lundy - Catawba County Manager
  • Ed Burchins - Newton City Manager
  • Bruce Beerbower - Naturalist, Catawba Science Center
  • Sydney Halma - Executive Director, Catawba Historical Association
  • David T. Wright - County Ranger, Div. of Forest Resources, NCDEHNR
  • John Tippett - Transportation Planner, Western Piedmont CoG
  • Ron Altmann - Executive Director, Catawba Lands Conservancy
  • Susie Hamrick-Jones - Executive Director, Foothills Conservancy
  • Chuck Roe - N.C.Conservation Trust
  • Downtown Revitalization Commission, Newton
  • City of Newton Appearance Commission
  • Jim Dunn - Division of Community Assistance, N.C. Department of Commerce
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Corridors for Change
Preserving an Endangered Transportation Network
Text of Introductory Remarks at Maiden Public Forum - March 2, 2000

Abandoned rail corridors are valuable in many ways which are often overlooked. They are importance for purposes of economic development as well as for the general welfare of the public. This underutilized resource can serve many functions. Though first it is essential that the status of the corridor be ascertained and local access be obtained. Currently, access to the Maiden branch is restricted by the NC DoT Rail Division which maintains the corridor which it acquired from Norfolk-Southern in 1983. State property laws limit uses of abandoned rail corridors for purposes other than rail service unless the line is held in fee simple absolute. In the case of the Maiden branch, which is held as an easement, there are no options other than rail service. Therefore it has become necessary to consider alternatives to the state railbank in order to facilitate compatible uses for the corridor. One such alternative would be to transfer the rail corridor into the federal railbank under Section 8(d). This would provide not only the greatest legal protection for the corridor but it also allows more flexibility for local governments to determine appropriate interim uses of the corridor. Federal rail banking preserves the corridor for future freight or light rail service. It also allows county governments to apply for interim trail certificates for the development of recreational uses to the benefit of the general public.

Economic Development

The advantages of rail-trail conversions projects are numerous. Tangible economic benefits are well documented as increases in local tax revenues are generated from activity on and around such projects. Sales, property and income taxes have been shown to increase where trail projects attract tourism and generate recreational related retail sales. Trail projects are an amenity which attract real estate sales and new commercial and industrial development. This kind of growth generates increased tax revenues in areas which might not otherwise be experiencing economic expansion. Another factor which is important to note is the fact that rail conversion projects actually save taxpayer dollars. Locally and nationally, bicycle and pedestrian trail projects require less capital investment and cost less to maintain than traditional parks and recreational services. Furthermore, the construction of convenient multi-use trails allows Americans to replace automobile trips with non-motorized trips. The U.S. Department of Transportation has determined that fifty percent of all personal travel trips are less than three miles long, and personal business trips, like doctor visits, household errands, and visits to friends account for 41.5 percent of all trips. The American public saves from 5 to 22 cents per automobile mile displaced by walking and bicycling due to reduced pollution, oil import costs, and costs due to congestion, such as lost wages and lost time on the job. Public rail-trail, multi-use pathways and on-road bicycle facilities offer communities a means of safe and convenient transportation which can connect neighborhoods to schools, workplaces, commercial and cultural centers, historic sights and transit centers.

Health and Fitness
The health benefits to public of safe and convenient recreational services are well documented. The Federal DoT goes on to estimate that 131 million Americans regularly bicycle, walk, skate or jog for exercise, sport or recreation. Such regular, moderate exercise has been proven to reduce the risk of developing coronary heart disease, stroke, colon cancer, hypertension and a host of other common ailments. The public is more likely to participate in such activities if these recreational resources are away from busy roads, convenient to home or work and are located in attractive open spaces. Further studies show that such trail programs are becoming especially popular among people living in urban and suburban areas, where close to home recreational opportunities are scarce.

Education and Training

The educational benefits of trail programs are varied and serve a wide array levels and needs. Science and environmental classes from primary and secondary grade levels can utilize the trail, sometimes without requiring bus transportation. College level study is greatly enhanced by access to nearby streams and wooded areas. Professional horticultural degree programs can utilize linear parks for training. Civic groups and community service organizations can adopt sections of trail for trash removal and maintenance projects.

Environment and Resource Conservation

There are important environmental benefits that are served by rail conversion projects which deserve to be acknowledged as well. The above mentioned displacement of automobile use which results from bicycle and pedestrian activity can reduce the volume of air pollution considerably. It is estimated that in 1991 such non-motorized activity replaced 18 billion vehicular miles saving 840 million gallons of gasoline and and thereby eliminating 10.4 million metric tons of exhaust emissions. Linear trails such as greenways, rail-trails and other off-road trails provide other environmental benefits benefits by linking existing parks, open spaces and undeveloped areas such as streams and natural habitats essential to the preservation of native plant and animal species. By providing buffers around waterways and drainage basins, open space preservation directly protects critical drinking water sources and affords communities a measure of flood control while at the same time helps recharge aquifers.

History and Culture

The quality of life in communities through which rail corridors pass is enhanced in many ways. The character of a town can be improved and made more attractive when a linear park is introduced. Rail corridors often provide existing buffers between residential and commercial and industrial sectors. The trail can provide historic preservation opportunities as interpretive self-guided tours can highlight the a community's development and the contributions made by the railroad.

The benefits of preserving rail corridors are countless. A community that chooses to take advantage of this resource will certainly be richer and stronger as a result of its efforts. The road to preservation begins with a single step. In this case the step is to ask the state to transfer this rail corridor into the federal rail bank. Then the options are are greater for Maiden to determine the future of its recreational, economic and educational opportunities.

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Upcoming Events      

September 18, 2010

Murray's Mill Bike Ride
June 5th, 2010


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