NEEDED: More Outdoor Experiences
Trails: Walking the peaks and valleys of establishing a viable system of trails in Laurens County; PREVIEW THIS SATURDAY and 2 outdoor events at Musgrove Mill
The Appalachian Trail, Mount Rainier, The Grand Canyon - all these places know about it. Laurens County is just getting its feet wet, so to speak.
To encourage environmental-tourism, and residents’ healthier lives, a June 1 event is planned for Lake Rabon near Laurens. Representatives of the Laurens County Trails Association will present information to everyone who is interested; also Saturday, there will be a guided hike at Musgrove Mill State Historic Site (see accompanying articles).
Trails organizers see this as part of a bigger picture: Spinning off a branch of the wildly popular Prisma Health Swamp Rabbit Trail from Travelers Rest, linking with trails “coming down” from Simpsonville, and highlighting an already established in-Laurens-County trailhead of the mountains to coast Palmetto Trail. It’s not new. The Laurens County Trails Association has been at it for 5 years.
It’s been a time of peaks and valleys.
The latest valley is the fact that Piedmont Technical College has refused to grant a right-of-way for a trail to cross its property at the Higher Education Center (behind Prisma Health-Laurens County Memorial Hospital).
It is a major setback. This is a key link in a trail-connection between Laurens and Clinton. People walk between the cities now (there is no public transit here), but they walk on super-busy Highway 76. Trails organizers want them to have a secure path - through Nature.
“I lived in West Ashley (Charleston) and they have beautiful trails,” said Bud Marchant, executive director of the Laurens County Trails Association. “We need to build trails now because in the future (with urban sprawl) it’s going to be more difficult.”
Marchant said the railroad will not abandon the line that splits off the main at The Cotton Loft events venue in Clinton and runs through Laurens - it would be a perfect trail.
Just one train uses this rail-line but, apparently, a company pays the railroad so much money as a single-user that it’s still profitable not to abandon the line.
All over the nation, Marchant said, abandoned rail-lines have been converted to very popular trails. That won’t happen in the Laurens County, yet.
So, trails organizers basically go door-to-door to landowners all along the route of the proposed Laurens-Clinton trail asking for rights-of-way. Out-going Trails Association Executive Director Don Walker admits it can be exhausting work. “Who’s going to do it? Basically, nothing happened without the Trails Association,” he said.
It also didn’t help that Dominion Energy cut a natural gas pipeline right through the dead center of Laurens County, making “easement” a dirty word to some effected property owners.
The Laurens County Trails Association needs volunteers.
It needs to have volunteers man committees, it needs to put information packets in the hands of landowners. It wants to establish an educational component - elementary, high school and college students can benefit from more instruction and time outside, they say.
There are successes: Laurens County Park has a walking track that’s trail-like, and Lake Rabon Park has 2.5 miles of trails on-site (it’s owned by the Laurens County Water and Sewer Commission). Laurens County Parks has established “blue-ways” (water) access to the Reedy River, near Hickory Tavern, and at Boyds Mill Pond, between Laurens and Ware Shoals.
Then, there are “valleys” - people don’t want to give rights-of-way. No viable bidders submit proposals to build trails - that’s happened twice to the City of Clinton aiming to build the Miller’s Fork Trail, east of Clinton near I-26. Ideas get funding - like a park-trail on Sterilite donated property west of Clinton, Hwy 72 - and then the money just sits there.
This Saturday could be the catalyst - it’s part of the National Trails Day observance. “This is a great place for people to live,” Walker said, “and all the surveys say people want to get outdoors.”
The Swamp Rabbit Trail proves that fact.
There is a Master Plan for Laurens County Trails on the LC Trails Association website. Already, there are substantial plans being made north of Laurens County.
Simpsonville has a very viable plan to install a trail just under 1 mile in length, from Trade Street downtown to Fairview Road, one of busiest roadways in the Upstate. It’s a $400,000 project (with infrastructure).
The Greenville News reports, “Before the trail can come to the Golden Strip, an extension needs to be built that takes the trail from Cleveland Park near downtown Greenville to the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research near Mauldin. The timeline for that is still unclear, but it could be soon. ‘We’re very close to getting all the easements that we need,’ said Ty Houck, director Greenways, Natural and Historic Resources for the Greenville County parks system. That proposed approximately 5-mile route parallels Laurens Road and includes about one and a half miles that require easements, while the rest is already controlled by Greenville County, Houck said.”
A Laurens County branch of the Swamp Rabbit also has caught the attention of the Greenville News. A recent article about plans to link Laurens and Clinton with a trail behind the hospital said, “It's a project that could hold major potential as an economic stimulant for Laurens County, where faded brick facades and empty storefronts dot sleepy downtowns with the bones to be more. ‘The fiscal impact of the bike trail could be phenomenal for both Laurens and Clinton and the county,’ said David Pitts, chairman of Laurens County Council. ‘Much like Travelers Rest, it could spur small business growth opportunity. ... We’re poised and positioning ourselves for future growth — that’s what it does,’ Pitts said. ‘This trail could have huge implications for this county.’"
County Administrator Jon Caine told The News that Laurens County Council committed $50,000 to the project in 2018, and funded equipment so county personnel could build the trail. He said Prisma Health also has made a $50,000 commitment.
The envisioned trail is 8 miles long.
And, just brainstorming now, there are a couple “blank slate” spots that could accommodate trails/tracks. What about The Connexial Center, off I-385, a project of the Laurens County Development Corporation and Laurens Electric Co-op. What about the brand-new campus of Fountain Inn High School?
If people walk trails, it’s a health benefit, surely, but money also is involved. According to the American Trails Association, these are the key economic benefits of trails:
1. Trails increase the value of nearby properties.
2. Trials boost spending at local businesses. Communities along trails benefit from the influx of visitors going to restaurants, and other retail establishments.
3. Trails make communities more attractive places to live. When considering where to move, homebuyers rank walking and biking paths as one of the most important features of a new community.
4. Trails influence business location and relocation decisions. Companies often choose to locate in communities that offer a high level of amenities to employees as means of attracting and retaining top-level workers. Trails attract businesses such as restaurants, snack shops, bike shops and other retail businesses at cater to trail visitors.
5. Trails reduce medical costs by encouraging exercise and other healthy outdoor activities.
6. Trails revitalize depressed areas, creating a demand for space in what were once vacant buildings.
7. Trails provide low or no-cost recreation to families with low cost relative to other recreational services that could be provided by government.
8. Trails increase tax revenues in the communities in which they are located.
9. These benefits represent a huge economic return on the money invested into trail projects. The cost of land acquisition for trails, trail construction and maintenance are far outweighed by the economic benefits generated by trails.