Walk, Run, Bike and Fish Along Beaufort’s Spanish Moss Trail
Story by Mark Shaffer
with Sissy Perryman
Photos by Tony Pierro courtesy of FSMT
“I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out until sundown: for going out, I found, was really going in.” – John Muir
John Muir knew what it was to appreciate a trail. He spent a great deal of his life either walking them, blazing them or urging others to do so. Long before he helped create our National Park system, John Muir realized that the human spirit cannot flourish indoors. To use 21st Century terminology, we need the occasional “reboot” to relieve the stress and anxiety of this modern world – lately, it would seem, more than ever. Unplugging, disconnecting, tuning out, turning off, going off the grid – whatever you want to call it – is as simple as going for a walk, a run or a bike ride. Maybe tossing in a line. In Beaufort we’re fortunate to be able to do all of the above all along what’s quickly becoming a magnet for locals and visitors alike.
RAILS TO TRAIL
Currently the Spanish Moss Trail runs about 10 miles from Smilax Avenue in Port Royal, through Beaufort to Poppy Hill Road in Burton with another 4 miles planned. The next phases will stretch the Trail from Ribaut Road to Port Royal’s Sands Beach in the south and then from Clarendon Road to the Whale Branch River on the north end. It all runs along what was once the historic Magnolia Line Railroad, circa 1870.
The rail line closed down back in 2003. By 2009 the Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority, under General Manager, Dean Moss, had acquired the right-of-way to the line as a utility corridor. Moss had a plan and by January 2011 the BJWSA and Beaufort County had agreed to an easement to develop 14 miles of the old rail corridor as a recreational green space to be called the Spanish Moss Trail.
Friends of the Spanish Moss Trail came together the next year, founded by Moss and other community leaders. The nonprofit, mostly volunteer organization is governed by a Board of Directors led by Executive Director Dean Moss (also a volunteer). The Friends count one professional staff member, Sissy Perryman, whose sole focus it is to deal with the Trail’s public awareness and development needs.
According to Moss, the length of the trail, its magnificent Lowcountry views and easy access, make it a significant attraction and a draw for people looking to get off the beaten path. Indeed, about 36,000 like-minded people made use of the trail in 2016.
“This rails-to-trail greenway is now one of the recreational centerpieces for Northern Beaufort County,” says Moss. “It also now offers a safe way for members of the communities north of the Marine Corp Air Station to reach the developed area of Beaufort and Port Royal by foot or bike.”
The basic concept of the SMT goes well beyond a nice, well-maintained recreational corridor. The multi-use trail is a way for the county to improve the quality of life for area residents while attracting new, green development and encouraging community revitalization.
“The initial challenge was educating the neighbors of the trail about what a multi-use trail was,” says board member and co-owner of Beaufort Kayak Tours, Kim Gundler. “There was some distrust and resistance to the idea; we put together a couple of neighborhood information meetings starting way back in 2004. After the guest speakers showed photos of existing successful trails and data showing the positive economic impact (rise in property values) the opposition faded away.”
A key part of this involved a partnership with the PATH Foundation of Atlanta, an organization responsible for creating more than 200 miles of trails in the greater Atlanta area over the last quarter century. PATH developed a 10-Phase Master Plan for the SMT. The final result will be a 12-foot wide concrete surface running through 14 miles of beautifully landscaped, easily accessable trail for the enjoyment of all, even people who’ve never heard of John Muir.
Living adjacent to the trail, I see users of all ages, colors, shapes and sizes and species,” says Gundler. “I think the trail may be the best thing that ever happened to Beaufort’s dogs! The one thing they all seem to have in common is a positive outlook. The sounds of children laughing, conversations between friends, and even singing is more effective than any poll to prove the value of this great public space.”
“The Spanish Moss Trail is an absolute asset for our community,” says Beaufort Chamber President Blakely Williams. “The potential economic stimulation is encouraging. We look forward to breaking ground with businesses along the trail for years to come.”
Once the Master Plan is fully implemented the Trail will run through Port Royal, Beaufort, Burton, Grays Hill and Seabrook connecting neighborhoods, parks and businesses to marsh views, nature preserves and the rich history of the region. Here you can walk alongside the marsh and take a leisurely stroll through time. More than 50 points of historical interest have been identified along the trail and seven unique historic markers have been unveiled. Moss charged board member Frank Emminger with the task of creating and chairing an Historical Sign Committee to research the old railway. The committee also included renowned local historians Dr. Larry Rowland and Dr. Stephen Wise.
“We owe a great deal of gratitude to Grace Cordial of the Beaufort County Library for her assistance as well as her knowledge of Beaufort County’s history,” says Emminger. “We also can’t say enough about Alvesta Robertson of the Beaufort Mather Alumni for providing old pictures of the Mather School that was formerly located at the site of the TCL.”
The signs are fashioned in part out of rails from the old track donated by Jimmy Pender of Pender Brothers Incorporated. The rails are dated 1906 and 1911. A pair of five and a half foot sections weighing in at around 150 pounds were used for each sign.
Emminger says the unique signage drew a lot of interest as they were as they were being installed. “I talked with people from Ohio, Kentucky, Colorado, people vacationing on Hilton Head and many others. One lady even told me she and her husband have been on more than 60 trails and ours ranks up there as one of the best.”
In the new year the Friends of the Spanish Moss Trail will concentrate on the highly anticipated extension of the Trail to the Sands Beach in Port Royal. Plans call to move forward once the Port has finally been sold.
“We are two thirds of the way to completing the task we set for ourselves in 2011 – a paved pathway from the Sands in Port Royal to the County fishing pier on the Whale Branch River,” says Moss. “This is an amazing accomplishment by our community of supporters.”
The Lowcountry’s Rails to Trail
A developing rails-to-trail greenway located
in Beaufort County, South Carolina that has become a “Must-Experience”
outdoor activity for residents and visitors alike. The SMT is a 9+ mile, 12-foot wide,
paved path dedicated to those who walk, run, bike, or fish ‒ offering spectacular
Lowcountry water and marsh vistas, coastal wildlife viewing, and historic points of interest as it meanders through Spanish moss-draped neighborhoods and beautiful wetlands.
The Friends of the Spanish Moss Trail have secured more than 90% of the funds needed for upcoming commitments to the Trail. A public fundraising campaign is underway to raise an additional $150,000 to meet goals for 2017. Tax-deductible checks can be made to: Friends of the Spanish Moss Trail (P.O. Box 401, Beaufort, SC 29901) or online at www.SpanishMossTrail.com. Contributions of $1,000 or more will be acknowledged on a permanent bronze plaque at the Depot Trailhead.
Visit & Support: www.SpanishMossTrail.com
Download: Spanish Moss Trail Mobile Guide