Grand opening planned Tuesday for newest section of rail trail

emoody@beaufortgazette.comNovember 23, 2013 

  • If you go:

    The grand opening of the newest section of the Spanish Moss Trail will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday at the intersection of the trail and Westvine Drive. Parking will be limited -- the lot there has 10 spaces. Beaufort Memorial Hospital is providing light refreshments.

As soon as the cement dried, folks started using the newest section of the Spanish Moss Trail.

But the 2.3-mile extension, between Allison and Ribaut Roads, will not be officially opened until a ribbon-cutting Tuesday. Dignitaries and residents will then celebrate the lengthening of a bike and walking path that started with one mile between Depot and Allison roads and opened right before last Thanksgiving.

"It's happened faster than I could ever conceive," Friends of the Spanish Moss Trail president Dean Moss said.

Some last-minute sprucing up of the trail and the installation of benches are expected Monday, he said.

Plans call for the trail to eventually stretch almost 14 miles from Port Royal to the Whale Branch River. The next extension is planned for Parris Island Gateway to Laurel Bay Road and is expected to cost about $850,000.

A matching grant of $350,000 from the James M. Cox Foundation -- which has already given more than $1.2 million -- and $250,000 from the Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina Foundation will help pay for a portion. Moss is optimistic $250,000 in community donations needed for that project will be raised by the end of the year.

About $50,000 of that is still needed, Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling said. He was out collecting checks and pledges Friday. With the exception of three $10,000 donations and a few $2,500 donations, most have been for $1,000 or less.

"$100 from some people is as big of a contribution as $10,000 for someone like me with 'found money,'" he said.

That "found money" is part of an award from a railroad right-of-way lawsuit against the federal government won by Keyserling's family and other residents along the trail path. Keyserling's family has pledged to donate at least $60,000 of the proceeds to help build the trail. Of that, $50,000 was for the section that will open Tuesday.

Moss said the hope is that Atlanta-based PATH Foundation, which built the existing trail, will be able to start construction on the northern section in the spring and open it by summer.

It will connect with a portion Beaufort County is working on between Depot Road and Parris Island Gateway. Anthony Criscitiello, the county's director of planning and development, said the county could seek construction bids in the spring, but didn't know when construction might be finished.

The process is "tedious" because that section crosses both a trestle and Robert Smalls Parkway, Criscitiello said.

Keyserling believes the trail will become a visitor attraction. He is working on a program to market Beaufort as a health and wellness destination.

"I firmly believe that once it gets to the Whale Branch it will have as big an impact on the community and the people who visit us as the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park," he said.

Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.

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