The first mile of the Spanish Moss Trail is taking shape, as the community is chipping in to give the walking and biking path a local touch.
Atlanta-based PATH Foundation is leading the project, in cooperation with Beaufort County and the city of Beaufort, and officials are reaching out to residents and area businesses for in-kind donations.
On Friday, a crew from Bartlett Tree Experts, formerly Preservation Tree Care, spent several hours clearing brush and trees around the Beaufort Depot, which is at the start of the trail.
City landscape architect Liza Hill said that although construction crews could have done the clearing, a company specializing in trees and familiar with the area would be more precise. That area of the trail has many live oaks and live-oak seedlings that she hoped would be preserved to impart the feel of a small park. Trail plans include several "pocket parks," with plants, trees and possibly benches.
The first mile will go from Depot to Allison roads. The long-term goal is for the path to stretch from Port Royal to the Whale Branch River and possibly beyond.
"Leaving this part kind of unkempt would leave the whole product unfinished, and seeing as how this would be the inaugural section, we thought we would do our part," said Michael Murphy, local manager for the tree service, which donated the work.
He estimated the time and labor was worth about $1,800, and he wants to stay involved with the trail and help with consulting.
Hill said she is contacting other landscaping and construction companies about donating labor.
From the beginning, the project has been driven by volunteers and donations. The Friends of the Spanish Moss Trail pushed for its creation. The Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority owns the railroad right-of-way and is allowing the trail to be built on top.
Jim Kennedy, the head of media conglomerate Cox Enterprises, whose family has owned the Clarendon Plantation in Grays Hill for 50 years, arranged for a $567,000 grant from the James M. Cox Foundation. That will pay for the first mile, and a second grant of as much as $600,000 will be given if an equal amount is raised locally.
The city and county are donating labor from their planning and public works departments, Hill said.
A grand opening is set for 10 a.m. Nov. 20, but Dean Moss of the Friends of the Spanish Moss Trail said it would probably be usable before then. Workers on site Friday said they have seen people walking and biking on the trail.
"It's enormously gratifying that people see what we're doing and want to support it," Moss said of the volunteer support.