Work on the Spanish Moss Rail-Trail could begin as early as this summer, and organizers say they might have someone willing to foot the bill for the first mile.
Beaufort County Council is making the project a priority, Planning Director Tony Criscitiello told the city of Beaufort's Redevelopment Commission during its meeting Thursday.
The rail-trail would run from Port Royal to the Whale Branch River.
The county has about $1.3 million -- $1.04 million of federal grant money and $261,000 in county funds -- for the 2.2 miles between Allison Road and S.C. 170. The intent is to create a walking and biking path that goes through neighborhoods and serves as a community attraction.
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Criscitiello said officials are looking to develop the mile between Allison and Depot roads in Beaufort first.
Dean Moss of the Friends of the Spanish Moss Rail Trail, estimated it would cost about $600,000 to pave, landscape and light that mile.
"There's a good possibility, not a certainty, that we have a private donor to fund that first mile," he said.
He did not identify the potential donor.
The $600,000 also includes design costs. Moss hopes some of those designs could also be used for subsequent parts of the trail, saving money down the road.
"So we can hopefully work out some of these design issues on someone else's nickel," he said.
The county has applied for second federal grant to help pay the costs of extending the trail to Laurel Bay Road, said Rob Merchant of the county's planning department.
The rail-trail discussion dovetailed with a discussion led by Patty Kennedy, executive director of the Beaufort County Open Land Trust. The trust is seeking ways to partner with municipalities and organizations to acquire and preserve land for the public while minimizing costs.
The Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority bought the Port Royal Railroad in 2009 so it could better protect the pipes beneath it and later granted the county an easement to develop the rail-trail.
Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/EyeonBeaufort.