By Emma Castleberry
2023 is the Year of the Trail in North Carolina. Each month, The Laurel will celebrate with a story about an inspiring trail or a related organization or project.
Rutherford County is home to the Thermal Belt Rail Trail, a three-year old trail that stretches just over 13.5 miles from Oaksprings Road in Rutherfordton to Forrest Hunt Elementary School in Forest City. “The trail truly connects us in ways that we have not been in decades, from working together during the building of the trail to ensuring that it remains the best rail trail conversion in Western North Carolina, the trail connects our amazing community,” says Doug Barrick, president of the Rutherford Railroad Development Corporation. “Moreover, the trail provides our residents and visitors a place to gather, connect and recreate fostering a deep connection to our roots.”
The converted railway path is 12 feet wide, paved and mostly flat along its length with very gradual elevation changes, making it a very accessible trail. “Rail trails are good for people with strollers or who might need to use a walker or wheelchair because of the paving and easy on/off access,” says Barrick.
The first five miles of the trail wind through rural land with long stretches between cross streets making it a wonderful option for bikers. The remaining southern stretch of trail is urban, passing through towns with restaurants, shopping, parks and playgrounds. There are also opportunities to explore history along the trail, including the Bechtler Mint Site Historic Park, where signage tells the story of local gold mining. A section of the
Thermal Belt Rail Trail is also shared with the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail, which traces the route of militia during an important campaign in the Revolutionary War.
The Thermal Belt Rail Trail will celebrate Year of the Trail this fall in partnership with the Town of Forest City’s Movement Festival on September 9.
“We will have an amazing race-style event for families and teams to participate in that will allow participants to explore the trail and learn more about its history and other outdoor activities,” says Barrick.
Visit ThermalBeltRailTrail.com for more information.