Take a walk with me along Charlotte’s Rail Trail

Take a walk with me along Charlotte’s Rail Trail
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I found myself with an afternoon off recently and decided to walk the “Rail Trail”, the path that runs along the Light Rail from Uptown along South End.

If you aren’t familiar with the Rail Trail, I’ll let the City’s own Rail Trail pitch book describe it for you:

Charlotte’s Rail Trail will be a vibrant public park that winds through the heart of downtown. The 4 mile trail will connect neighborhoods from Sedgefield, Southside Park, Brookhill, Dilworth, Wilmore, South End and Uptown. But it will belong to everyone in the Queen City.

The Rail Trail will become the place to discover cafés and bars, explore galleries, see artists at work, stumble upon an impromptu concert, stroll with your family, or relax on a bench and watch the city come alive around you.

The walkway alongside the LYNX Blue Line already exists. With the help of passionate supporters, the existing trail will be transformed into a network of gardens, public art, unique spaces and activities, and an endless string of places to sit, eat and play. The hardest part of building a park—acquiring the land—is done. Now we have an opportunity to turn it into something extraordinary.

That’s a pretty ambitious vision, but I think it’s also right on the money.

While it might not boast the topological advantages of the River Walk in San Antonio or Zilker Park in Austin, the Rail Trail has a ton of potential to be a hallmark of the Charlotte experience, and dare I say it, a tourist destination.

I also have a personal connection to the development of the Rail Trail. My wife and I lived in the South End for 3 years when we first moved to Charlotte, and enjoyed running along the asphalt pathway along the tracks. So after living on the other side of town for a few years, I wanted to see for myself how the progress is coming along – turning a walkway into the artist’s depiction of a sophisticated urban park that sits on the city’s website.

I started in the Lower South End section, mostly because I knew that the parking at the Scaleybark station would be free and easy, so I walked to the CATS Maintenance Facility which marks the southernmost point of the trail.

I like how the facility is built over the tracks. It’s pretty slick. I feel like that big brick wall needs a mural of some sort to spice things up.

Charlotte-CATS-Facility

After you pass the building, you can catch a glimpse of the unused train cars sitting idle at the facility, and you get your first view of Uptown in the distance.

The Rail Trail pitch book references this area for needing “benches, patios, new paving, and landscaping”, and I think that’s definitely true. It’s a clean, clear area, but you still feel like you’re on an access road and you just didn’t see the “Authorized Personnel Only” sign.

Charlotte Rail Trail

Another 1,500 feet up, it feels a little more civilized, as you have The Fountains apartments on your left, and the New Bern station straight ahead.

New-Bern-Station

Passing the New Bern station, you have the back side of the Pepsi bottling facility on your right, which supposedly is on the market for redevelopment.

This would be huge because the trucks and loading docks you see from the Rail Trail give a very industrial feel to New Bern station, and frankly it feels a little desolate.

I wonder how this B-cycle station ranks in terms of usage relative to the others around town. I’m guessing very low. It’s a great spot for redevelopment too because you get the Rail Trail’s first great view of the Uptown skyline.

Charlotte-light-rail

Continuing on a couple hundred feet, you reach what might be my favorite spot along the whole trail, not because it’s particularly nice, but because of how far it’s come in such a short time.

When we lived in the South End, this stretch from Remount Rd. to New Bern station was seedy at worst and depressing at best.

The buildings that lined the asphalt path were abandoned warehouses with broken windows, and the grass along the path was overgrown and covered in garbage.

But look at it now! Gone are the abandoned warehouses, replaced with a new industrial building facing the trail (though the barbed wire fence and screens on the windows belie the fact that a somewhat seedy element remains).

And what’s that peeking at us from the distance? Triple C Brewing!

Change doesn’t happen overnight, but incremental improvements over time can have a huge impact.

Warehouse-Triple-C

Up next, we get into the heart of the South End apartment boom, with the Silos on the left and Colonial Reserve Apartments on the right.

I’m glad they kept the Silos when they were developing these apartments because it was always strange to me that they were there. Plus, there was mural on the silos featuring a face that I always thought looked like Britney Spears when she shaved her head, but my wife vehemently disagreed. Please tell me I’m right on Twitter so I can win this five year old disagreement.

Silos-Mural-Charlotte

Silos-Charlotte

Once you cross Remount Rd, you get to my old neck of the woods as you’re greeted by the Junction 1504 apartments.

These were just being built when we moved from the South End to Elizabeth, and I can’t stress enough how much it has changed the feel of this area.

When we lived here, this area was a series of concrete slabs, the foundations of demolished warehouses. Every afternoon, they would turn into an impromptu skate park for teenagers.

It was pretty cool I suppose.

But now, there are apartments with “posh interiors” and “well-appointed kitchens”. I guess changes like that are why some folks push back on the development in South End as much as they do, but in the scheme of things, I think “impressive attributes” are probably better for Charlotte as a city than empty lots for teens to do kick-flips, but I see the value in both.

Junction-1504

Home sweet home. I love this view.

The Spectrum was a great place to live, and the view of the Uptown skyline is pretty solid as well. And there’s the glorious new Publix, looking resplendent in the May sunshine.

There must be some sort of NCDOT law forbidding any pedestrian cut-overs across the tracks, because it seems like a no-brainer to put a walkway right here to get from the Rail Trail over to Publix. Maybe something is in the works, but it looks like for now you’re stuck driving out of the Spectrum parking garage, driving down to Remount Rd, taking a left onto South Blvd, and then turning into the Publix lot instead of a leisurely 5 minute stroll across the tracks.

Safety first, I guess.

Spectrum

Full Disclosure: I haven’t had a chance to make it to Sycamore Brewing yet, and I had no idea it was right here. I thought it was much farther down South Blvd.

My mind was blown.

I lived in this area for 3 years, and the second I move they build a brewery 250 feet away from my old apartment?! Sometimes in life, timing is everything folks.

Sycamore-Brewing

Hey there, Atherton Market.

In an area full of development success stories, Atherton Market has to be up there. At the time we moved to Charlotte, Atherton Market had just a few vendors and limited hours.

When we first went, it was 75% because we hoped to see Claire Danes and 25% to actually buy something.

Now, the cast and crew of Homeland are gone and Atherton Mill and surrounding small businesses are a vibrant hub of South End, just as the original Rail Trail plans envisioned.

Atherton-Market

I love this view from South End.

You’ve got the skyline. You’ve got that South End sign on the CATS mechanical hut. You’ve got the Design Center watertower.

Very urban.

The Ashton South End is the first place we lived in the South End. I checked the rent for our old floorplan there a few weeks ago, and it’s more than our entire mortgage payment for our house in Elizabeth. And you were wondering why they keep building more apartment complexes…

Ashton-View-Charlotte

I’d love to see the Rail Trail somehow connect with The Liberty and Tupelo Honey Café over this parking lot. In fact, it’s in the pitch book to “Connect to Businesses” with formal linkages.

It would be awesome to have this be a beer garden or put a fountain or something like that here, but as anyone who has ever tried to park in this lot on a weekend knows, reducing the number of spaces is probably not a good idea.

Liberty-and-Tupelo-Charlotte

A little farther up, past the chalkboard, we come to the Food Truck Friday lot at Park & Camden. Kind of amazing that this hasn’t been developed yet.

It will be interesting to see how long this lot can hold out, and if it can, if the city will recognize the role it plays and invest in making it an official park with some more permanent fixtures.

Fun fact: my wife and I attended the first-ever Food Truck Friday. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go become extinct because a meteor hit the Earth during the Cretaceous Period.

Food-Truck-Lot-Charlotte

Now this is what the Rail Trail needs. Random acts of public art. Love these chairs sitting out here for no reason. The more quirky, functional art that can be added to the Rail Trail, the more it’s going to become a part of the city’s identity and make it unique.

yellow-Chairs

Now we’re building some momentum here. This definitely fits the vision of the Rail Trail. I’m guessing this is because of the proximity to the Charlotte Art League art gallery, but this giant metal chicken sitting inside a fenced-off utility area perfectly encompasses the spirit of what the Rail Trail should be.

Chicken-in-a-Fence

I have to think the Bland Station area of the Rail Trail is pretty much complete. View of Uptown? Check. Nearly-full apartment complex? Check. Cool new restaurant basically on the tracks? Check. Rack of B-cycles? Check. Definitely could still use some quirky art though.

Bland-Station

I can’t believe people don’t like The Arlington.

“It’s pink. Why is it pink? It doesn’t match anything else! Who in their right mind would decide to put a random pink building in the South End? It doesn’t match at all!” Exactly. That’s why it’s great.

If you want to live in a place where every building looks the same, there’s a townhome in Ballantyne with your name on it.

The-Arlington

This underpass, just north of Carson station, is just screaming for a mural to be painted on it. Possibly some sort of “Welcome to Buzz City!” sentiment along with an image of the skyline?

underpass

And just a few short steps north from the underpass, we come to the end of the South End section of the Rail Trail.

From here, you walk up to Morehead and over to College street to cross over I-277, where the Rail Trail blends into Uptown.

Trails-End

So there’s the State of the Union of the Rail Trail for early May 2015.

It’s evident how far this area has come in just a few short years, and I would even say that the most difficult areas to develop have been addressed. But I think what’s next for the Rail Trail will have to come from its citizens, you and me, and it is summed up nicely in chalk written on the Rail Trail itself:

heART-of-Charlotte

Charlotte is a city with a beautiful, well-planned infrastructure of a heart, and it needs to be filled with the art of its citizens. And the Rail Trail is a blank canvas on which to create. Go make art happen everyone. Oh and follow @RailTrailCLT on Twitter for updates on the progress of the trail.

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