Unused rails could become Lenoir hiking trail

Jan. 06, 2014 @ 05:28 PM

An unused segment of railroad tracks snaking through neighborhoods and beside factories in Lenoir may not sound like a great place for an addition to the Lenoir Greenway, but city officials see an opportunity.

Use of the 5.6-mile rail line, along with about two miles of side lines, was discontinued as part of the agreement that brought Google to Lenoir in 2007. The city of Lenoir and Caldwell County Pathways are working to transform the unused railway into a pedestrian trail to connect nearby neighborhoods to the greenway and give residents in the area a pedestrian route to downtown.

The organization that Pathways and the city are working with, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, is a nonprofit headquartered in Washington, D.C., that works to create a nationwide network of trails from former rail corridors. Since its founding in 1986, the group has worked to convert more than 20,000 miles of rail corridor across the country, with more than 9,000 miles waiting to be built. Three rail-trails, as they’re called, have already been constructed relatively close to Lenoir, with two in Lincolnton and one in Troutman.

The section of discontinued rail runs from Google’s property north, and organizers are currently working to get the line officially declared abandoned, a process that takes a long time, said former city councilman Merlin Perry, who served for eight years on the North Carolina Rails-to-Trails board and has been a member of the group for about the past 25 years.

Once the rail is declared abandoned, the corridor will be cleaned, rails and ties will be torn up and salvaged, and the remaining corridor will be either paved or covered with gravel to create the trail.

City Manager Lane Bailey expects no city money to be used in constructing the trail. Money from selling the salvaged rail lines could bring up to $10,000, though the amount varies, according to Rails-to-Trails.

Perry said the trail could increase property values, spur neighborhood businesses and contribute to tourism.

“It’s unreal what it’s done to other communities, ones that go into small towns.” Perry said.

Eventually, Perry said, the trail could become part of the Overmountain Victory Trail, a National Park Service trail that runs through Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina following the route of Revolutionary War soldiers on their way to a battle.