/ Trails and Recreation,

Nonprofits Seek to Buy Saluda Grade for Rail Trail

A coalition of nonprofits in North Carolina and South Carolina are working together to purchase the inactive Saluda Grade railroad corridor for a new approximately 31-mile rail trail. Similar to the popular Prisma Health Swamp Rabbit Trail or Virginia Creeper Trail, this rail trail would spur economic growth while providing new opportunities for outdoor recreation.  

The three nonprofits working to purchase the rail corridor are Conserving Carolina, PAL: Play, Advocate, Live Well (PAL) and Upstate Forever. These nonprofit partners have made an offer to Norfolk Southern, which owns the rail corridor. Negotiations are ongoing. The recently passed South Carolina budget contains a $5 million appropriation to support the purchase of the corridor.  

Saluda Grade rail line through mountains
Saluda Grade through the Blue Ridge Mountains. Photo by Scott Park/Upstate Forever.

The potential Saluda Grade rail trail would run from Inman, SC to Zirconia, NC. Approximately 16 miles of the line are in South Carolina while about 15 miles are in North Carolina. The route includes dramatic scenery along the Blue Ridge Escarpment and passes through historic downtowns in Saluda, Tryon, Landrum, and Inman. When active from 1878 to 2001, the line was renowned as the steepest standard gauge mainline railroad ever built in the United States. 

“As we’ve seen with the Prisma Health Swamp Rabbit Trail in Greenville County, trails like this are transformational economic engines,” said Andrea Cooper, executive director of Upstate Forever. “They bring money and jobs to the local economy, boost quality of life for residents, and offer a safe and accessible way to spend time outdoors. The Saluda Grade Rail Trail will yield a return far beyond any initial investment.” 

“Saluda Grade Trail will be an extraordinary recreational amenity for the residents of our region and could become a hub for a burgeoning network of connecting parks, trails and greenways across several counties,” said Kieran Roe, executive director of Conserving Carolina.  “The trail will also help preserve and promote awareness of the remarkable history of the Saluda Grade railroad, a 19th-century engineering marvel that was key to the growth and development of this part of the Carolinas.”   

“Trails provide significant health benefits, and the Saluda Grade will do just that,” said Laura Ringo, executive director of PAL. “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.” 

Learn more about the Saluda Grade Trail


About the Saluda Grade Partners:

Conserving Carolina is a land trust that has protected over 47,000 acres, primarily in Henderson, Polk, Transylvania, and Rutherford counties in N.C. and the Landrum, S.C. area. It has also created over 35 miles of trails and advanced five local greenways, including the future Ecusta Trail. The mission of Conserving Carolina is to protect, restore and inspire appreciation of the natural world. To learn more or become a member, go to conservingcarolina.org 

PAL: Play. Advocate. Live Well. is a nonprofit that improves health and wellness throughout Spartanburg County. With a mission to advance active living, promote healthy eating and foster health equity, PAL creates a culture that embraces healthy living. PAL focuses its work on developing active places to play, advocating for healthy schools, and on the partnerships required to increase access to healthy food. PAL is spearheading the development of the Daniel Morgan Trail System throughout the urban area of Spartanburg County. 

Upstate Forever is a nonprofit conservation organization that protects critical lands, waters, and the unique character of the Upstate of South Carolina. We focus our work on the ten counties of Abbeville, Anderson, Cherokee, Greenville, Greenwood, Laurens, Oconee, Pickens, Spartanburg and Union. Since 1998, we have worked to protect the natural assets that make the Upstate so special: our farmlands, forests, natural areas, rivers, and mountains. We are committed to ensuring that our communities are vibrant and retain their green spaces and unique identities in the face of rapid development and significant sprawl. Upstate Forever has offices in Greenville and Spartanburg. For more information, visit www.upstateforever.org. 

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