Representatives from a local group of people who have formed a nonprofit organization to establish a recreational trail spoke to members of Cheraw Town Council Tuesday about the progress of the project.
The Friends of the Cheraw to Society Hill Rails wants to utilize the abandoned railway path leading south and eastward from Cheraw toward Society Hill.
After nearly two years, the group is now much closer to reaching a deal with the South Carolina Central Railroad Company to purchase the 12.8-mile stretch of land. However, because of opposition from a few of the neighboring landowners in the Red Hill area, the group is now hoping to develop just four miles of the track, from ACL Avenue in Cheraw to the Cheraw State Park.
Initially, said Cheraw Town Councilwoman Jacquelin Ellerbe-Shannon, “the railroad wanted close to a million dollars for the property.”
Phil Powell, a founding member of The Friends of the Cheraw to Society Hill Rails, says the rail company is now willing to let the group have the property for the appraisal price of $160,000.
Cheraw Mayor Andy Ingram, who included the Rails-to-Trails project in his review list of accomplishments for 2012, said “that’s a long way from the last offer of $600,000.”
The group did not ask council for money to support the project Tuesday evening. They approached council to both inform them of the current status and to get “clarity on the town’s interest,” said Powell. “We’d like a gauge or guide for the town’s interest and whether or not to move forward.”
“As I recall,” said Ingram, “you met with some strong opposition on this project. Those were pretty hot potatoes. How is that going?”
According to Kappie Griggs, also a founding member of the Friends of the Cheraw to Society Hill Rails, that opposition was the reason for the shift from completing the trail all the way to Society Hill.
“We are only interested in developing four miles,” said Griggs.
The land agreement with the railroad company, however, is an all-or nothing-deal for the full 12-mile parcel of land. To purchase only the four miles they hope to develop is not an option.
If the group is to purchase the railway, it must sign a letter of intent relatively soon. They asked council to give them an indication of the town’s commitment to the project, and how it stacks up in priority with other town projects in the works, within the next 30 days.
Ingram said he would have the issue placed on the agenda for the next regular meeting with full council which is Nov. 12.
The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, a national non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., has been helping communities convert abandoned railways to walking trails for several years. According that organization’s website, the mission of that group is to “create a nationwide network of trails from former rail lines to build healthier places for healthier people.”
— Staff Writer Karen Kissiah can be reached by calling 843-537-5261, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.