The Year Of The Trail

PHOTO: It Is Do-able. Don Walker, left, holds a facts sheet for Dr. Bob Bryan, a PC professor and outdoors enthusiast, during a trails discussion at The Ridge recreation center in Laurens. - File photo


Laurens County Trails Association opens new year with search for a new executive director


The man credited with helping to put trails on the radar of public officials, by showing how the paths for walking and biking can make money, is leaving the Laurens County Trails Association.

Don Walker is moving to North Carolina from Laurens County, and leaving behind a legacy of sparking an interest of building an extension of the popular Swamp Rabbit Trail in Laurens County. Negotiations with property owners are going on now.

Specifically, the proposed trail connects Laurens and Clinton with a foot-path behind GHS Laurens County Memorial Hospital. As it is with the Swamp Rabbit Trail, Greenville Health System has committed as a branding sponsor.

LCTA is seeking as its executive director a “bridge builder” who is “patient but persistent.”

An executive director job description says, “The Laurens County Trails Association (LCTA) is an all-volunteer charitable non-profit South Carolina corporation. LCTA’s mission is to provide the vision, leadership, organization, and collaboration to plan and implement trails that promote healthy lifestyles, encourage land and nature conservation, and stimulate economic development.”

Walker and others have spearheaded in the past few years, public forums at the Clinton Family YMCA, The Ridge in Laurens and other locations to amass a list of “wants” from the community in a Laurens County trails network.

The City of Clinton is working on the Miller’s Fork Trail near I-26.

Laurens County has a walking trail at the Boyds Mill Pond recreation site, and a “blue-way” kayak and canoe trail-head near Hickory Tavern.

Musgrove Mill State Historic Site has a trails system, including a trail that is handicapped-accessible.

Laurens County’s national forest area has a trail-head for the mountains-to-the-coast Palmetto Trail.

But the one that captures the imagination most is the Swamp Rabbit Trail ($6.7 million impact in 3rd year, according to Furman University study, cited in Sept. 11, 2018 LCTA report to the Laurens County Development Corporation). 

It is credited for single-handedly transforming the small-business economy of Travelers Rest. People who use the trail need places to eat and drink, walking and hiking gear shops, and bike repair places. They socialize on the trail, and moms and dad bring their young kids to exercise on the trail.

The vision is similar for Laurens County.

“The volunteer Executive Director is effectively LCTA’s CEO. Working with the Board of Directors, he/she provides the vision, leadership, and overall management to ensure that plans are created and executed effectively to achieve LCTA’s goals,” the job description says. “Success in the Executive Director’s role will contribute to improving the health of our citizens. Equally as important is stimulating economic growth through attracting outsiders (and their money) to Laurens County by establishing the County as a green oasis with plentiful opportunities for outdoor activities in a relaxed environment that’s abundant in natural beauty.”

Based on his experience with LCTA, Walker wrote the job description being used by the organization’s board to seek an executive director. “In the short term,” it says, “the top priority is to maintain the existing momentum and focus to implement the first segment of the GHS Swamp Rabbit Trail.”

The Executive Director also must be able to:

-- Develop a strategic plan for 2019 and beyond. 

-- Design and coordinate a community trails event at the Laurens County Park. 

-- Implement a community outreach program with emphasis on digital media. 

-- Build the organization by establishing teams, team leaders, and volunteers.

-- Develop a volunteer recruiting program. 

-- Conduct a capital funding campaign.

Skills and experience, values and traits needed are:

-- Prior leadership and management experience. 

-- Be well-connected and respected around Laurens County and possibly the Upstate. 

-- Have created a compelling vision and successfully promoted it.

-- Exhibit drive, passion, and motivation. 

-- Success with team leadership and effective delegation. 

-- Strong written and oral communication skills. 

-- Success at getting things done.

-- Committed and informed about outdoor health. 

-- Authentic and honest.

-- Can commit the time needed, probably not having a full-time job. 

-- Bridge builder, emphasis on relationships, works well with others, respects others. 

-- Patient but persistent, humble.

-- Ability to focus on priorities while keeping an eye on the vision.

In October, Walker provided this update on the Swamp Rabbit Trail, Laurens County:

“LCTA has been nearly completely focused on the sections of the GHS Swamp  Rabbit Trail that will connect Laurens to Clinton.  The long term plan  is to start there and then head in both directions:  eastward through Clinton and on to the Palmetto Trail in Sumter Forest;  and westward through Laurens and on through Gray Court to Fountain  Inn.  Obviously all of that will take many years to complete and we  decided to start in the middle, connecting the two  major cities. 

“It’s been a  challenging process with a lot of steps.  We defined a preferred route  and then worked with attorneys to identify the owners of the properties  along that route and to decide on the details of the  easements needed through those properties. Discussions with those  property owners revealed several results:

--Many are very supportive because they recognize the value of having the Swamp Rabbit Trail on their property.

--Some are supportive but for various reasons want the trail in a different place from what we planned. Then it might not connect with adjoining properties so new plans, and new discussions, need to happen.

--In some cases we had not fully appreciated the problems with terrain (hills, wet areas) so plan changes were needed.

--Others are undecided and need more time to think about it.

--We even have one property owner that has moved, left no forwarding address, and cannot be found!

“So this process is  taking a lot longer than we had expected. Various situations require  new plans but in the end it all needs to connect. So it’s become an  iterative process that’s complex and time consuming  but, like the dog that won’t let go of the bone, we’re hanging in there  and making progress!”


(More info:, and Laurens County Trails Association, PO Box 1492, Laurens, SC 29360.)


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