Beaufort County will consider using asphalt instead of concrete for segments of the Spanish Moss Rail Trail after complaints from some runners and cyclists.
No decision will be made for several months, but planners will seek public opinion when choosing a surface for a 2.1-mile section that will be built next year, county spokeswoman Joy Nelson said.
"We'll be looking at the pros and cons of concrete and asphalt, but ultimately we will (select the surface) that's best for the community," she said.
The former railroad right of way runs from Port Royal to Yemassee, and trail advocates hope the Spanish Moss trail will run the entire route. The first mile, being built from Allison Road to Depot Road in Beaufort, has a concrete surface.
Although the trail hasn't formally opened, it's already getting plenty of use, and some people aren't fond of the concrete. Two County Council members say they have received complaints.
Ed McBrayer, executive director of the Atlanta-based PATH Foundation, which is helping the county and Beaufort build the trail, says the debate over concrete versus asphalt is an old one. He believes runners when they tell him concrete is harder on knees and shins than asphalt, but he says there is no scientific evidence to prove it.
"Nobody has ever shown me why it's different, other than that they feel it," he said.
Funding for this segment came from the James M. Cox Foundation, which donated $567,000. A second grant from the foundation, worth as much as $600,000, will be awarded if a local match is found.
The 2.1-mile section to be built next spring will be funded from a variety of sources, including about $260,000 in county accommodations-tax money.
Nearly all of the foundation's more than 200 miles of trails across the Southeastern U.S. use concrete. McBrayer says it costs only about 10 percent more than asphalt and lasts longer.
"We are building a multi-use trail, so it has to accommodate all different types of user groups," he said. "That means everyone from skaters to runners to cyclists to baby strollers and motorized wheelchairs. This is not just a runner issue."
Nelson said the county is accepting bids from engineering firms to design the next trail segment. After the contract is awarded, county officials and the winning bidder will decide on the surface.
"Right now, it's not set in stone that it's definitely going to be concrete or definitely going to be asphalt," she said.
Derek Comerford of Palmetto Running Co.'s Beaufort store said he hasn't heard any complaints about the new trail, but he prefers asphalt.
"I would say usually asphalt is better," he said. "For lack of a better way of saying it, it is a little more forgiving."
Follow reporter Casey Conley at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufortCo.