Thanks to Bob Stoothoff of Lady's Island for sharing some background on the new Spanish Moss Trail. Bob is founder and chairman of Pathways Connect, which worked for years to enhance bicycling opportunities and safety in northern Beaufort County.
By Bob Stoothoff
On Nov. 20, our community celebrated a great milestone: the official opening of the Spanish Moss Trail.
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This first mile is the beginning of the construction phases that eventually will complete the rail trail from Port Royal to the Whale Branch River and hopefully beyond.
The first mile is the result of the generosity of the James M. Cox Foundation and Jim Kennedy, chairman of Cox Enterprises, and his wife, Sarah Kennedy; the expertise of the PATH Foundation of Atlanta; and the donation of additional time and resources by local companies and public officials.
The trail had its beginning 12 years ago as a coalition of cycling enthusiasts, walkers, runners and community leaders worked together to make more bike lanes, sidewalks and trails a reality. Pathways Connect was formed to advocate, and the county stepped up to fund a study that resulted in the Northern Beaufort County Trail Plan, which included plans from Beaufort and Port Royal.
One of the key "spines" of the trail plan was the railroad right of way that was operational at the time. After the Port Royal railroad ceased operations, the opportunity to use that right of way for the public trail was delayed as discussions regarding ownership, funding and alternative uses consumed energy and time.
Finally, the Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority stepped forward and, for the sake of its business plan, purchased the right of way. Thank you to its board, especially its former director, Dean Moss, and Terry Murray for their foresight.
There is a very real need to thank the original board of Pathways Connect: Steve Greenberger, Frank Hager, Caryl Sweet, Judy Nash Timmer, Carol Ruff, Bob Turner and John Holloway, and the many additional board members and supporters of Pathways Connect along the way, especially Karen Heitman of Greater Bluffton Pathways, who worked on this and other initiatives that have resulted in better cycling and walking infrastructure in our communities.
Thanks for their professional skills and commitment is also due to local planners: Libby Anderson, Linda Bridges, Tony Criscitiello and Rob Marchant. To Jim Hicks, I thank you for your counsel. We were also supported by city and county council members and by the county administrator and mayors of the cities.
We are in the good hands of the next generation of advocates and supporters who will take this trail and other projects to their successful conclusion. The Friends of the Spanish Moss Trail board -- Jane Frederick, Joe DeVito, John Feeser, Gene Rugala, Dean Moss, Terry Murray, David Tedder and Bill Harvey -- and many others are working diligently and deserve our energetic support.
In that spirit, the Pathways Connect board has voted to donate its treasury of more than $10,000 to the support of the Spanish Moss Trail. In so doing we are folding into the Friends of the Spanish Moss Trail and will cease to exist as a separate organization. Former board members and members of Pathways Connect are now on the Friends board.
I believe that this rail trail is deservedly the signature project in northern Beaufort County and will continue to foster important, related and connected projects in our community.
Mr. Kennedy of Cox Enterprises has challenged our community to match additional grants, $600,000 in the near term, and the possibility of more in the future, so that completion of the planned 13 miles of the rail trail can happen sooner rather than later.
As county and city leaders have suggested, we will need to step up and determine a matching funding strategy that may involve both donations and revenues from the towns and county.