Stensland: The man with the map of Rutherford County

Jan. 19, 2013 @ 06:20 AM

I’ve long called for a bike lane or trolley bus or something to give us a less car-dependent means of zipping up and down the main corridor that connects the Tri-City area.

I don’t know why it never occurred to me that we already have one in the Rail to Trail.

This is the stretch of trail that currently stretches from Spindale to Gilkey. But as Jerry Stensland points out, the trail could eventually extend farther into Forest City - and then each town could link to the trail via sidewalks leading from different parks and neighborhoods.

I feel an “ah-ah!” moment. I’ve walked the Rail to Trail countless times; again, why didn’t I think of this?

Well, because I’m not a Jerry Stensland, that’s why. One thing you pick up on Jerry very soon is that he’s got a mapped-out vision for Rutherford County based on making the most of what we already have.

For example, through his work with the Rutherford Tourism Authority, Jerry’s collecting information about every recreational and cultural asset in the county. The information will eventually be housed in a centralized database - which I expect many organizations will find invaluable in their own planning and outreach efforts.

One of the most anticipated results of the new database: an Interactive Trail Map that lets hikers scan their smart phones at various trail-points around Lake Lure and Chimney Rock for a guided tour.

I don’t live in the Lake Lure area, and to be frank, it sometimes seems a lot further away from my daily life than just twenty miles. But there’s no doubt that Lake Lure is one of our county’s chief assets.

“It’s an awe-inspiring gateway to attract people to Rutherford County,” Jerry says.

Via the non-profit organization he founded some years back, the Rutherford Outdoor Coalition, Jerry’s also involved in the development of six miles of trails on the Isothermal Community College campus.

Mike Gavin of ICC tells me how this will enhance student life at the school, giving students a chance to get some exercise in between classes.

Of course, thanks to the school’s policy of encouraging community use of its grounds, the trails will also benefit the public.

What a magnet such a campus is to draw new people here; to keep more of our native young adults here.

Mike obviously agrees, but says the same can be said for outdoor recreation. “Anyone who doesn’t think recreation isn’t an economic tool is dead wrong. After good schools, people and businesses thinking about relocating want to know what there is to do, and Jerry has been a central part of that.”

Jerry also played a key role in the significant opening up of the Broad River in Rutherford County, which now has several new access points for the public.

This seems such a major feat to me, but the way Jerry explains it, it was no big deal.

“I’d heard that the Wildlife Resources Commission judged some of the river as ideal for bass fishing, which meant the likelihood of opening more of it up. So I asked the Department of Transportation if we could create some specific access points like the one at Gray’s Road,” he recalls.

Did you catch how jurisdiction switched from one agency to another in the blink of an eye? This is par for the course when trying to get public recreation projects off the ground. Luckily for our county, Jerry has the patient temperament needed to work with multiple government agencies and private organizations.

“You just have to be ready for the opportunities,” he says.

There are several opportunities right now for anyone interested in pitching in. The Rutherford Outdoor Coalition is currently seeking people to help create the trail at ICC, and parties interested in “Adopting” trail sections in Lake Lure, Chimney Rock, and on the Rail to Trail.

The organization hosts a Trails Team/General meeting on the third Tuesday of each month at 5:30 p.m. at the Rutherford County Office Building in Rutherfordton. Visit for more info or call Jerry Stensland at 828-447-1590.


Stephanie Janard is a mother and full-time copywriter. She lives in Spindale. To reach Stephanie, email