By Elizabeth W. Duda
09.26.2020 (York County, SC) This month, the Bike/Ped Coalition (BPC) of York County began inviting compelling guest speakers to our general membership meetings on odd months at noon. Bret Baronak, Carolina Thread Trail Director, kicked it off by sharing his nonprofit’s important work to create a regional thread trail network for people across 15 counties to use for recreation, exercise and transportation. On November 4, we will welcome Patrick Hamilton of York County Pennies for Progress, the “capital projects sales and use tax” program to provide a safer, more efficient roadway system. And on January 6 we will welcome Amy Johnson Ely of the Palmetto Cycling Coalition to talk about the nonprofit’s advocacy work to make SC bicycle and pedestrian friendly including through the SC Livable Communities Alliance.
What better way to launch the BPC’s noontime guest-speaker meetings than by welcoming Carolina Thread Trail Director, Bret Baronak! The Carolina Thread Trail nonprofit is leading the effort to create an interconnected trail network linking 2.9MM people in 15 NC and SC counties and 88 municipalities. Through unprecedented regional collaboration, people and communities will connect to nature, and each other, via a planned 1,610 miles of trails, greenways and blueways (river/stream routes). Presently 300 miles of land, including 31 in York County, and 180 miles of blueway are completed. The York County master plan adopted in 2009 provided for 225 miles of existing and potential trails, and York County presently is updating its Trail Master Plan to reflect changes over the years. There currently are 178 miles of bike routes in the county (some of which are part of the Carolina Thread Trail).
The Carolina Thread Trail’s lead agency, with which it shares staff and resources, is the Catawba Lands Conservancy. Established by regional leaders in 2007, the Catawba Lands Conservancy is a land trust dedicated to saving land and connecting lives to nature. The mission is similar to that of the Nation Ford Land Trust, which seeks to protect open spaces for the public benefit in York County.
The Carolina Thread Trail acts as a catalyst for conservation, since trail creation facilitates open space and permanent land protection. Its success depends on partnerships. Most trails are owned and maintained by municipal organizations, though the Carolina Thread Trail maintains the Catawba Land Conservancy-owned lands. Community partners provide funding, strategic planning, technical assistance, and help with land acquisition. They continue to partner with these original founders: Bank of America; C.D. Spangler Foundation; Duke Energy; Foundation of the Carolinas; Knight Foundation; Turner Family Foundation, Wells Fargo and others. And they appreciate their many other smaller donors.
Why support trails? Trails are important, promoting safe, livable communities! We saw this as people were sheltering in place during COVID-19 and used their neighborhood trails to increase physical activity and serenity. Elected officials care about economic development. Companies want nice communities for their offices and employee housing. Kids and adults need them to walk to or bike to school, work or local amenities. Local communities should be able to live in say, “these are our amenities” that contribute to recreational, health, transportation and environmental benefits and a better quality of life.
The presentation shares details on trails throughout York County including the Baxter Village Trail in Fort Mill; Founders Trail in Rock Hill and Fort Mill; Riverwalk’s Piedmont Medical Center Trail in Rock Hill and Fort Mill; Waterford Trail in Rock Hill; Masons Bend Trail in Fort Mill; Blue Star Trail at the Anne Springs Close Greenway in Fort Mill; and Manchester Meadows Park Trail in Rock Hill. It also describes the 2020 Carolina Thread Trail grant recipients including the extension of the Manchester Meadows Greenway which closes gaps and provides a potential extension to the Panthers facility, and trail design of the Riverbend (Powater) parcel in Rock Hill. It also includes photos of the signage initiative to unify signs, which are over 10 years old.
Do you want to get involved? Become a trail master! Volunteer on a public work day, at one of the Catawba Thread Trail’s over 50 programs, or at a special event! Participate in their outreach or education, such as the annual trail forum which this year will be virtual on December 3. Look for their regional roundtables in late 2020 / early 2021. (See the event calendar here.) If you have more money than time, donate here. And advocate for trails in your community!
About our speaker: Bret Baronak’s background is in public sector land use and transportation planning. Through his career, he has specialized in bicycle and pedestrian planning. From 2006 to 2014, Bret served as the Bicycle, Greenways, and Pedestrian Coordinator in Palm Beach County, Florida, responsible for planning, funding and elevating awareness for non-motorized transportation. In late 2014, he moved to Rock Hill and became Senior Transportation Planner with the Gaston-Cleveland-Lincoln MPO. He is a member of the BPCYC with particular support for cycling and the thread trail. Bret is a native of western Pennsylvania and a graduate of Penn State University. He is an avid road and mountain cyclist and also enjoys hiking, travel and NASCAR racing.