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Plan would bring Spanish Moss Trail to the Beaufort waterfront. What would it look like?

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Supporters of a popular Beaufort County biking and walking trail are working to bring the path to downtown Beaufort along the city’s picturesque bluff.

Friends of the Spanish Moss Trail has proposed a 10-foot-wide concrete path from a trail head down Depot Road and along Bay Street to Charles Street.

The proposal would allow trail users safe passage to downtown shopping and restaurants and sweeping views of the Beaufort River and some of the city’s most stately historic homes, supporters say. But the plan has also raised questions about how the trail would affect parking and aesthetics along Beaufort’s waterfront.

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The current plan would bring the trail along the state-owned right of way to Beaufort Elementary School near the intersection of North Street. How the path would continue along the remaining stretch of Bay Street marked by large oak trees and a stretch of free roadside parking is still in question.

“We’re very early in this process,” Friends of Spanish Moss Trail executive director Dean Moss told city officials last week.

A recent survey along Bay Street will help develop options for decision-makers to consider, Moss said. The survey will lead to more detailed drawings from the PATH Foundation, an Atlanta-based nonprofit organization devoted to building recreational trails.

Trail supporters sought an endorsement from Beaufort City Council this month so they could continue planning and private fundraising efforts for the project that could cost $2 million.

City Council voted to support a downtown trail connection, though not committing to a route down Bay Street.

Mayor Billy Keyserling, who had supported a route downtown other than Bay Street, said the city supports a biking and walking connection and was voting to continue exploring possibilities.

“I don’t think the alarm should be going off,” he said.

Conceptual drawings of the Bay Street connector shared by Lowcountry Weekly drew dozens of comments on social media critical of the proposal, questioning the possible effect on trees and parking along the bluff. City officials referenced the comments in considering the resolution last week.

“I do not know anybody who has approached me and says they support a 10-foot wide concrete path on the other side of Bay Street,” Beaufort resident Mike Sutton, a former councilman, told council members last week. “That’s like taking the Woods Bridge and making it a high-rise overpass. It will forever change the look of that.”

Moss has met with council members in public workshops and said he has talked to nearby property owners and downtown business owners in sharing the proposal during the past year.

Any eventual route will avoid trees and conserve as many parking spaces as practical, trail supporters said. Railings shown in some conceptual drawings would be for safety where there are steep drop-offs and not the length of Bay Street, the Friends group said.

“We’re advocating for our idea, but if the city feels a different approach is better, I think it is fair to say the Friends will develop a solution that works for everybody,” Moss said.

The Spanish Moss Trail now extends 10 miles, from Port Royal to Grays Hill. A remaining connector, parts of which have been constructed, will link the trail to Port Royal’s waterfront.

A 1.2-mile downtown connection from Depot Road would provide a safe method for trail users to access shops and restaurants, supporters say. The connection would also become part of a loop for cyclists and pedestrians from Port Royal to Beaufort and crossing both bridges to Lady’s Island.

Stephen Fastenau covers northern Beaufort County as a reporter for The Beaufort Gazette and The Island Packet, where he has worked since 2010 and been recognized with state and national awards. He studied journalism and political science at the University of South Carolina in Columbia and lives in Beaufort.
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