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UF and partners seek to buy Saluda Grade for rail trail

July 20th, 2022

Traversing approximately 30 miles from Upstate South Carolina through Western North Carolina lies the inactive Saluda Grade railroad. Its path meanders through downtown Inman, Gramling, Campobello, Landrum, Tryon, and Saluda, as well as the picturesque Piedmont countryside, the Pacolet River valley with its plunging waterfalls, and the spectacular scenery around the Green River and Lake Summit. 

A coalition of three local nonprofit organizations — Upstate Forever, PAL, and Conserving Carolina — are working together to transform this unused line into a vibrant, new approximately 31-mile rail trail. Together, we have made an offer to Norfolk Southern, which owns the rail corridor. Negotiations are ongoing.

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.

The Saluda Grade rail corridor traverses through historic downtown Landrum

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.

“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.”

The 22-mile multi-use Prisma Health Swamp Rabbit Trail has revitalized communities along its route (Photo by Mac Stone)

To receive updates about the Saluda Grade Rail Trail, please click here. To learn more about this project and view responses to frequently asked questions, please click here.

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