With $27 million in funding approved by North and South Carolina legislatures in the past 18 months, the proposed Saluda Grade Trail is looking inevitable.
Perhaps no community is counting on its promise more than the town that sits on the trail’s southern starting point.
For the people of Inman, a proud community nestled on the doorstep of the Blue Ridge Mountains in northwestern Spartanburg County, years of effort to bring new life to the community’s downtown are finally paying dividends.
But what makes local municipal and business leaders almost giddy with excitement is how the proposed trail is likely to amplify and accelerate Inman’s economic prosperity.
Laying the groundwork
The proposed trail would cover roughly 31 miles running north from Inman, through Campobello and Landrum in South Carolina, then through Tryon and Saluda in North Carolina before ending in Zirconia, North Carolina. The path will follow the historic but inactive Saluda Grade rail line, which is being purchased from Norfolk Southern.
The effort is coordinated by Upstate Forever and PAL — Play. Advocate. Live Well. — in South Carolina and Conserving Carolina in North Carolina.
The promise of a new rail trail connected to the heart of Inman’s downtown seems to be an affirmation of the years of hard work by town residents and leaders to revive what was for decades known as the “fresh peach capital of the world,” according to Mayor Cornelius Huff.
Known to lifelong residents and newcomers alike as “Cornchip,” Huff has spent decades in public service to the people of his hometown, first as a volunteer for the local fire service — where he earned his nickname — and later as an EMT. For the last 20-plus he has served the city’s government, first as a member of City Council. He became mayor in 2014.
From the beginning of his time in city government, Huff said he was always motivated by the vision “to see Inman come alive again.”
Over the years, there have been many efforts to make that vision a reality, but there was one overriding obstacle in the way: the city’s former strong-mayor government. It effectively allowed the mayor to override the City Council and hamper the type of collective action community revitalization depends on. Huff saw this firsthand as a council member and ran for mayor in 2014 on the platform to change Inman’s structure to a council-administrator model.
“I was able to be a part of that transition — the good, the bad and the ugly,” he said. “It takes a team to make things grow and to win the game.”
Allowing the mayor and council to have an equal voice in charting the city’s future combined with bringing a professional administrator in to run the city’s day-to-day operations helped Inman get ready for the growth the Saluda Grade Trail will almost certainly bring, Huff said.
Being clear-eyed and proactive in meeting that growth is one of the main jobs of Joe Lanahan, the city administrator, who came to the role in 2020 after stints as recreation director for the city of Mauldin and, prior to that, as a program manager for Greenville County’s Parks, Recreation & Tourism Department.
Lanahan said he saw how the Prisma Health Swamp Rabbit Trail went from the modest idea of a 12-mile trail connecting Travelers Rest and downtown Greenville to an expanding trail network that has revitalized nearly every community it touches.
With 3 miles of the proposed Saluda Grade Trail traversing virtually the entirety of Inman’s downtown, the impact to the city is expected to be transformative.
“It’s very, very exciting,” Lanahan said.
The momentum of Inman’s efforts to reignite interest in its downtown has become palpable in recent months.
Beyond a streetscape project that beautified and updated Main Street, new businesses have come downtown and brought an increasing number of visitors.
Huff and Lanahan credit these entrepreneurs for staking their financial livelihoods on the vision that Inman is entering a new phase of growth and prosperity.
Among those businesses bringing new life — and foot traffic — to Inman is The Crepe Factory, which opened in downtown Spartanburg in 2016 but moved to its 12 S. Main St. location in Inman in 2021.
Lanahan said the restaurant not only brought its loyal customer base to Inman, but serves as a magnet for new visitors. Likening such businesses to the major department stores that served as anchors to underpin the commercial appeal of suburban malls, Lanahan said they help signal Inman is a great place to be.
That idea was among the motivations that prompted Jim and Carin Holliday to build their new Holliday Brewing manufacturing and distribution facility in downtown Inman. The custom-built 9,000-square-foot brewery and taproom is located at 12 Prospect St., a block north of Main Street.
It joins the company’s Drayton Mills Marketplace location in Spartanburg and will feature food offerings in partnership with Spartanburg’s Burgers & Bakery.
Jim Holliday said Inman offered the right opportunity at the right time for his company’s expansion. The planned trail promises to make that future even brighter.
Saluda Grade Trail fast facts
- 31 miles, from south of Inman in South Carolina to near Zirconia in North Carolina
- $12 million in funding over two years approved in September by the North Carolina General Assembly
- $15 million in funding dedicated by the South Carolina General Assembly
- A South Carolina community update meeting is scheduled for 5:30-7:30 p.m. on Oct. 17 at Inman Library, 50 Mill St.
- A North Carolina community update meeting is scheduled for 5:30-7:30 p.m. on Oct. 19 at Polk County High School, 1681 state Highway 108, Columbus
Did you know?
Inman is home to Inman Mills, founded by James Chapman in 1901 and one of only a handful of historic textile firms still in operation. The contributions of the Chapman family are commemorated in Inman’s Chapman High School and Spartanburg’s Chapman Cultural Center. Among the family’s notable members is celebrated singer, songwriter, author and actress Marshall Chapman.