Biking old railroad line a unique experience

Special to The Bluffton PacketMay 30, 2012 

  • The Old Savannah-Tybee Railroad Historic and Scenic Trail or the McQueen's Island Historic Trail is parallel to a stretch of GA 80, heading out to Tybee Island from Savannah. From Bluffton take S.C. 46/170 into Savannah and follow signs to Tybee Island. The 37-mile drive takes about an hour but be prepared for additional traffic during beach season. Parking is free and ample at both the trailhead at the entrance to Fort Pulaski National Monument and the parking lot at midpoint. Restroom facilities are sparse, and there is no drinking water available so be sure to come prepared. From the trailhead and back is a 12-mile roundtrip hike or bike ride. Fort Pulaski is open seven days a week and Tybee Island is only 5 miles more down the road.



    RAILS AND STEAM USHER IN THE GOLDEN AGE

    In 1887 the Central of Georgia Railroad completed a line from Savannah to Tybee Island and with it came wave after wave of beachgoers. This brought the small island community within range of day visitors for the first time and a turn-of-the-century boom of beachfront recreation began.

"But daddy, where is the train?"

The words of my 3-year-old son brought a smile to my face. As we gazed down the sun-bleached track of rock and broken shell that was once an active railway line we could not help but wonder what it would be like to hear and see a steam engine pulling cars of happy beachgoers in a bygone era.

The Old Savannah-Tybee Railroad Historic and Scenic Trail, also known as the McQueen's Island Historic Trail, is a six-mile path that follows the railbed of the old Savannah and Atlantic Railroad line. Built in 1887, this railroad carried passengers to and from Tybee Island during its days as a booming turn-of-the century beach resort. Abandoned in the 1920s when the highway was built, this line languished in the scrub and palmetto until the early 1990s when it was converted to a recreational path and park as a rails-to-trails project.

The Old Savannah-Tybee Railroad Historic and Scenic Trail offers a unique experience, in part, from the history and also from the incredible views of surrounding sea and marsh. Starting from the trailhead at the main gate of Fort Pulaski National Monument, this wide easy pathway lazily wanders a gauntlet of myrtle and palmetto and offers vistas of the South Channel of the Savannah River. Wildlife will be experienced almost immediately from the millions of fiddler crabs that scamper along the margins to shorebirds, osprey and even playful dolphins enjoying the quiet backwater.

The trail is well-marked with several bridges, picnic tables and even exercise stations. Some excellent fishing holes are reachable from the trail and there are two parking areas, one at midpoint, for access. The ocean breeze plays in the trees, the sun bathes everything in diamond hues and as traffic whispers past on the way to Tybee, you will enjoy a stretch of quiet and adventure.

Recently my family and I drove over from Bluffton and enjoyed an afternoon of bike riding on the old trail. We parked at the trailhead at Fort Pulaski and enjoyed a picnic lunch before mounting up and hitting the trail. It was easy-going the entire way, and we passed many people out walking or fishing along the shore. The path was well-maintained until very near the end. At almost the six-mile mark, erosion had washed out some of the path. It was still passable, however, and at the end of the trail we were pleasantly startled to discover a sort of impromptu art gallery of crab trap floats, bottles and other gifts of the sea adorning a stately live oak-shaded picnic area. Here my family and I enjoyed fun on makeshift rope swings and a nice rest before pedaling the six miles back to the car and then home across the river.

Bluffton resident Matt Richardson enjoys taking day trips with his family and exploring the Lowcountry. To see more pictures from his adventures, go to www.Flickr.com and search on the username "greenkayak73." He can be reached at greenkayak73@yahoo.com.

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