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The Thermal Belt Rail Trail’s First Ever Amazing Race A Huge Success

Thermal Belt Rail Trail

Media Contact: Jenna Bailey (713) 824-9173


Racers from all over the Carolinas completed Challenges on the TBRT

The Amazing Staff and Participants celebrate at the end of the awards ceremony with one more selfie inside Forest City’s Pavilion on Park Square.

Rutherford County, NC - September 13, 2023: The Rutherford Railroad Development Corporation (RRDC) hosted the first ever Thermal Belt Rail Trail (TBRT) Amazing Race on Saturday, September 9th, 2023. The event was created in honor of North Carolina’s Year of the Trail. Teams raced across eight miles of the TBRT, completing a series of challenges along the way. The TBRT Amazing Race was held in conjunction with the Town of Forest City’s annual health- and wellness-focused Movement Fest. The event kicked off at Forest City’s Park Square trail access point, and ended with an awards ceremony on the Pavilion on Park Square (POPS) main stage. Participants came from throughout Rutherford County, Gastonia, Belmont, Flat Rock, Cedar Mountain, Timberlake, NC, and York, SC, for the event.

This team-based race brought together many organizations, with “challenge stations” sponsored by organizations that were instrumental in developing the trail. The challenge sponsors were the Town of Forest City, North Carolina State Parks, Rutherford Bound, Rutherford Outdoor Coalition, Rutherford County Tourism Development Authority, RHI Legacy Foundation, and the Town of Spindale. Every challenge station had an activity, game, or riddle themed after the sponsoring organization’s mission. “It was so much fun being a part of the excitement and watching the enthusiasm of the teams,” said Amy Taylor, Town of Spindale.

The event planning began in January with the help of Jenna Bailey, Creative Director of Artifacturing, who sparked the idea of an Amazing Race in celebration of the Year of the Trail. After receiving the RRDC’s blessing and solidifying partnerships with the Town of Forest City and challenge sponsors, Artifacturing organized and produced the event. “The idea from day one was to showcase all of the partnerships and team work it took to make this 13.58 mile trail just four short years ago this October 19th. Pulling in challenge sponsors that made the trail, gave us the opportunity to return the favor and showcase their organization and outreach in our amazing community. It became a diverse race for teams of friends, family and co-workers to experience.”

The event grew to become a symbol of why the TBRT is such a diverse resource. “The community coming together is what made this Amazing Race ‘amazing,’” said Bailey, “the creativity and effort put into each station by their sponsored organization, along with the large number of volunteers who showed up on the day of made the event really special.”

Over 50 volunteers gathered on the day of the race to run registration, assist at the challenge stations, run volunteers lunch, hand out prizes and help in any way needed. R-S Traffic Control and Rutherford County Traffic Control manned the crossways to keep everyone safe.

The challenges were designed for participants to use their wits, know-how and team-building skills. These challenges were top secret until the day of the race. After completing a challenge, teams received a clue from a judge that would then lead them onto the next part of their quest. The challenges ranged in variety from mental to physical tasks. Amazing Racers sped through a selfie challenge in downtown Forest City, learned how to orienteer with a compass, identified local landmarks in the county, used their knowledge of Spindale Centennial facts, assisted a park ranger, and won a bingo game with a twist. One challenge, presented by Rutherford Bound, tasked Amazing Race teams with planting a tree along the TBRT. Those trees can now be seen lining part of the rail trail between miles 8 and 9, forever commemorating this event that celebrated the Year of the Trail. “It was awesome to see such a fun group of people on the trail, it was obvious they were having a great time!” said Ron Hancock of Rutherford Bound and Destination by Design.

Presenting sponsor Rutherford County Tourism Development Authority pose while preparing for the Amazing Race participants at Challenge Five. Left to right: Kayley Smith, Elizabeth Randall, Taylor Hardin, Don Cason

Presenting sponsorships included RHI Legacy Foundation and Rutherford County Tourism Development Authority. Additional sponsorships came from Artifacturing, BrewDega, Big Guns Coffee, Destination by Design, Grumpy’s Bike Shop, On Main, and Rock Steady. NC Fudge, formerly Fat Tracy’s, provided lunch for the 50+ Amazing Staff volunteers and Plum Natural, Food Lion and Ingles donated water and snacks for the racers.

“RHI Legacy Foundation was pleased to be a sponsor of the event,” said Jill Miracle of RHI Legacy Foundation. “We were able to highlight the Thermal Belt Rail Trail and the Backpack Program, two of our significant grant projects. We would love to see the Amazing Race grow and provide significant financial backing for future Rail Trail enhancements.”

Feedback from participating racers was overwhelmingly positive, with teams already looking forward to next year. “The whole race was so much fun! Everything from the pre-race information to the challenges, the instructions, the traffic control, the prizes - it was all so well organized. It was the perfect balance of physical and mental challenge, team building, and community outreach,” said Heather Banfield (Team You Shall Not Pass), "for being the first time doing something like this, the bar has been set very high.”

All participants surveyed recommended others to participate and, “I hope they do it again next year because we can't wait to make a comeback!” Angel King (Team Rock Steady) said, “kudos to the race organizers, the station leaders, and the host of amazing volunteers. This inaugural event was thoughtfully planned and extremely organized. My team members and I had so much fun. It was a wonderful experience and we are already looking forward to next year's TBRT Amazing Race."

The Disney Dominators - Chad & Jenny Carper and Reggie & Susan Norris - winning the Best Team Costume award

The race concluded with an awards ceremony on POPS main stage. Prizes were given to First Place bikers and pedestrians, Second Place, Best Team Costume as well as honorary mention prizes given by each challenge station. Prizes included Thermal Belt Rail Trail and Year of the Trail swag, speakers, passes to Chimney Rock State Park, survival bracelets and gift cards to local restaurants. Stephanie and Richard Williams of Team Blink Floyd took first place, with Team T&T Howler Tracks (Toni Belhu, Jed Turner, Tim Turner, and Stella Turner) following behind with a close second. The Disney Dominators (Chad Carper, Jenny Carper, Reggie Norris, and Susan Norris) took home the Best Team Costume award. The Thermal Belt Rail Trail’s Best Selfie Award was given to Team Amazing Race Crew (Philip LaFon, Julia Rhoads, Christina Rhoads, Tim Rhoads).

Team T&T Howler Tracks - Jed, Tim, Stella Turner and Toni Belhu - are all smiles as they finish second place in the inaugural TBRT Amazing Race.

The Thermal Belt Rail Trail is a beloved local resource that represents a sense of community pride and connection. The 12-ft-wide, now paved corridor was once a railway during the era of Rutherford County’s booming textile industry. The corridor has now come back to life as the rail trail, threading through the towns of Gilkey, Ruth, Rutherfordton, Spindale and Forest City and sewing together a larger community. Locals can be seen on the rail trail bicycling, running, walking their dogs and even using the rail trail as a way to commute. The TBRT attracts tourists from all over the country, bringing customers to local shops. The Amazing Race was created with the intention of celebrating not only the TBRT itself, but the surrounding area and community.

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