County Council approves application for joint Carolina Thread Trail grant

A joint grant that would create the first cross-state connection along the Carolina Thread Trail was discussed by Lancaster County Council last month.

During its Nov. 24 meeting, council approved joining with the town of Waxhaw, N.C., to apply for a $150,000 Carolina Thread Trail construction implementation grant. The vote was 6-0, with Council chairman Larry McCullough absent from the meeting.

County Planning Director Penelope G. Karagounis said Waxhaw officials approached the county about partnering to obtain the grant, which would create a unique attraction for outdoor enthusiasts.

The project would include constructing a half-mile extension to Lancaster County’s existing 3.5-mile Walnut Creek Trail at Twelve Mile Creek, along with building a 120- to 150-foot suspension bridge over the creek. The new trail would connect with the Mill Bridge subdivision in Waxhaw.

“In 2012, this was initially supposed to be a joint project across the states and Waxhaw backed out of it because of opposition from neighbors. But now, they want to come back,” Karagounis said. “It would be four miles one way, eight miles back and forth.”

If approved, the grant would help cover construction costs, she said.

“We’re looking at $65,000 for the suspension bridge,” she said. “Waxhaw is looking to apply for $150,000. However, there’s not a required match from Lancaster County, just to coauthor a grant to get Waxhaw the $150,000.”

While there are no upfront costs for the county, Karagounis reminded council the creation of the bridge and extended trail will mean additional maintenance costs for the county.

“We need a joint maintenance agreement with Waxhaw and we need proof of liability coverage for the maintenance of the bridge,” she said. “Building and zoning may be involved for certain permits.”

Lancaster County Parks and Recreation Department Director Hal Hiott also supported the idea.

“The Carolina Thread Trail people have said this would be the first connection of two states together and they are really pushing for us to do this because we would be the first,” Hiott said.

He also reminded council to be mindful of the additional maintenance costs his department would face if any more trails were added into the county’s parks system.

“If we keep adding trails and adding stuff, I don’t have the staff to take care of this stuff,” he said. “If we keep building things, we need more staff.”

Councilwoman Charlene McGriff asked Hiott if he knew what the cost would be to maintain the proposed walking bridge.

“Because your budget is already stretched, you’d have to eliminate something else,” she said. “We certainly don’t have money to hire another person or maintain additional trails.”

Hiott said the current plan did not worry him as much as potential future costs.

“Right now, we’re OK, but if we add more in the future, I just wanted to make council aware if we add more stuff, we’ll need more people,” he said.

Though his department takes care of significant maintenance issues along the trails, Hiott said they also rely on help from volunteers.

“We have volunteers who go out and do maintenance. The biggest thing with the trail is clearing fallen trees and watching for washed out places. The general maintenance is done by a group of volunteers and the Carolina Thread Trail will help us with that,” he said.

“Now, you can’t take a truck on the trail, so it’s a lot of leg work. But it’s a beautiful trail and boardwalk.”

McGriff again asked if there are any costs to the county for agreeing to join with Waxhaw for the grant. Karagounis assured her there are not.

“We just need a blessing to connect. There’s no cost,” Karagounis said. “They’re just shooting for a $150,000 grant with no match here.”

Before the vote, Councilman Jack Estridge joked about an alternative way to fund the suspension bridge.

“Can we make it a toll bridge?” he said with a laugh. “That way, you can walk across the wilderness if you want, but you can’t cross the bridge without paying.”

Council then voted to support the grant. The town of Waxhaw intends to submit the grant application on Jan. 9, 2015.

By Christopher Sardelli, Staff Reporter with The Lancaster News