/ Trails and Recreation,

Agreement Reached on Saluda Grade Rail Line

Saluda Grade through Campobello
Saluda Grade through Campobello. Photo by Scott Park/Upstate Forever.

A coalition of nonprofits that is spearheading the Saluda Grade Trail has reached an agreement with Norfolk Southern to sell the 31-mile rail line for use as a recreational rail trail. The coalition has a signed agreement with the railroad establishing the price and other terms of a future purchase. 

This coalition consists of Conserving Carolina; PAL: Play, Advocate, Live Well; and Upstate Forever. These nonprofits are leading efforts to repurpose the inactive rail line as a trail that will run from Upstate South Carolina into the mountains of Western North Carolina. The Saluda Grade Trail will run through Inman, Campobello, Landrum, Tryon, Saluda, and Zirconia. Along its route, the trail will feature rural scenery, vibrant small towns, historic landmarks, and gorgeous nature preserves, lakes, and waterfalls. It is expected to be a multi-use trail that will be enjoyed by people of all ages and abilities. 

“We’re pleased to announce this exciting progress toward the goal of a rail trail that will serve as an economic engine for our communities, provide an abundance of recreational opportunities, and improve people’s health by encouraging exercise and time in nature,” says Kieran Roe, Executive Director of Conserving Carolina.  

Saluda Grade by waterfall in Saluda
Photo by Jim Kelly/Palmetto Trail.

At the request of the railroad, the terms of the agreement are subject to a confidentiality agreement. The coalition expects to close on the rail corridor within two years and is pursuing state and federal funding opportunities. In South Carolina, the coalition is advocating for an $11 million investment by the state this year.  

“In addition to being beloved community assets, trails energize economies. We’ve seen this play out with the Prisma Health Swamp Rabbit Trail, which is a resounding success.” said Andrea Cooper, Executive Director of Upstate Forever. “The Saluda Grade Trail will bring new jobs and money to the area, encourage safe outdoor recreation, and improve quality of life for residents. It’s a visionary project with a return that will far exceed any initial investment.”   

Laura Ringo, Executive Director of PAL, says, “The Saluda Grade Rail Trail will be a transformative project for the region. This rail-to-trail will be a destination and provide a boost to the Spartanburg County tourism economy, especially for the cities along the route like Landrum, Campobello and Inman. During the first year that the trail is open to the community, 125,000 visitors are expected. The majority of those visitors will buy lunch or a beverage, shop along main streets, and hopefully spend the night.     

“In addition, trails provide significant health benefits, and the Saluda Grade will do just that,” Ringo went on. “Physical inactivity is a major cause of most chronic diseases and access to recreation areas and trails increases physical activity for people of all ages, abilities and income levels. The creation of trails is an investment in preventative health and studies show that every $1 investment leads to almost $3 in direct medical benefit.” 

The coalition is also taking further steps to advance the Saluda Grade Trail. It has begun the process of an economic impact and feasibility study that will shed light on how the trail will shape local economies and how to move forward with the project. This summer, the coalition will be reaching out to landowners and stakeholders along the trail to seek their input on the opportunities and challenges presented by the trail and approaches that will best meet the needs of the community.  

In addition, the coalition is preparing a website for the Saluda Grade Trail where the public will be able to find information and ways to get involved. The website is expected to launch this spring.  

To learn more, sign up for emails, or make a donation to the trail, you can visit the website of any of the partners in the Saluda Grade Trail coalition at conservingcarolina.org/saluda-grade, palspartanburg.org/saludagradetrail, or upstateforever.org/saluda-grade. Conserving Carolina is leading efforts on the North Carolina side of the trail, while PAL and Upstate Forever are leading efforts in South Carolina.  

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