UNION — A discussion more than 20 years ago on how best to facilitate the exploration of South Carolina’s natural beauty and its many communities led to the ongoing development of The Palmetto Trail which proponents say could benefit Union County economically.
The Palmetto Trail is described by The Palmetto Conservation Foundation website (www.palmettoconservation.org) as “the state’s largest bicycle and pedestrian project” which when completed will be more than 425 miles in length, running from the mountains to the ocean. Hikers and bicyclists who follow the trail will encounter lakes, mountain rides, forests, and towns of all sizes.
While sections or passages of the trail are still incomplete, the foundation website states that the trail “features primitive pathways along knife-edged mountaintops and treks through maritime, sandhill, and piedmont forests. Other sections are urban bikeways, greenways and rail-to-trail conversions.
Two passages include Revolutionary War battlefields. Together or separate, the passages reveal the rich diversity and the history, culture and geography of the Palmetto State.”
Natalie Britt, foundation executive director, said that the trail is part of the foundation’s efforts to promote the conservation and preservation of South Carolina’s natural, historic, cultural and community heritage through outdoor recreation.
“The Palmetto Conservation Foundation has been around just over 20 years and since we were established our focus has been improving the quality of life in South Carolina through the promotion of cultural resources, preserving historic landmarks, and promoting outdoor recreation through hiking and biking trails and greenway systems,” Britt said. “One of the things we’ve done well is we’ve working with local governments in promoting growth and prosperity while maintaining local character and quality of life. Our mission has been focused on conservation, preservation and recreation.”
It was in its efforts to carry out its mission that Britt said the foundation’s first board came up with the concept of The Palmetto Trail.
“Our first group of board members discussed the fact that we have these beautiful natural resources and colorful communities in South Carolina,” Britt said. “They then asked how do you explore the natural beauty and the local color of South Carolina and from that came The Palmetto Trail.”
The trail is composed of a series of passages, only part of which are complete. They include:
• Oconee Passage
• Blue Ridge Electric Passage (Jocassee Gorges)
• Saluda Mountains Passage
• Poinsett Reservoir Passage
• Blue Wall Passage
• USC Upstate Passage
• Hub City Connector
• Croft Passage
• Glenn Springs Passage
• Blackstock Battlefield
• Enoree Passage (formerly Sumter)
• Lynch’s Woods Passage
• Peak to Prosperity
• Capital City Passage
• Fort Jackson Passage
• Wateree Passage
• High Hills of Santee Passage
• Lake Marion Passage
• Santee Passage
• Eutaw Springs Passage
• Lake Moultrie Passage
• Swamp Fox Passage
• Awendaw Passage
The Glenn Springs Passage ends in the Glenn Springs area. The next is the incomplete Blackstock Battlefield Passage which passes through the western part of Union County before connecting with the completed Enoree Passage in Sumter National Forest.
This past weekend, thru-hiker Scot Ward visited Union County while traveling the trail to gather information for a manual on the resources available locally for hikers and bicyclists who travel the trail in the future.
Ward and Britt both pointed out that the trail can be an economic boon for Union and similar communities along or near the trail.
“Hikers on average spend $100 in every town we go into,” Ward said. “We go to hotels or hostels, restaurants, grocery stores, outfitters, gas stations and post offices among other things. If the trail sees 100 long distance hikers a year, each trail town has the potential of receiving $10,000 or more just from the hikers. That doesn’t include the day hikers, weekenders and section hikers, nor the membership dues to the organizations who maintain and build the trail.”
Britt said there is a great deal of interest in the trail with people from all over the country contacting the foundation to arrange for hiking and bicycling trips.
“We get calls from people all over the country about the trail,” Britt said. “In just the past six to eight months we’ve planned trips for people from Massachusetts, Oregon, Maine, North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Florida. We get calls all the time from people looking for a great way to explore South Carolina.
“There is a trail counter on a passage in the Lowcountry and during the three warm weather months there were 5,000 people on the trail,” she said. “That was just a small area in Berkeley County.”
Britt pointed out that there were so many hikers and bicyclists traveling along one passage of the trail that a local business owner actually built a spur connecting the trail with her business.
“One business owner built a spur trail off the trail because there were so many hikers coming to her store,” Britt said. “The spur made it convenient for the hikers as it allowed them to come to her business without actually leaving the trail. The spur ran right up to the back door of her business.”
When the Lowcountry passages were completed, the foundation published a guide on the region providing travelers with information about the area, including the resources available in the communities on or near the trail. Britt said the foundation can do the same for Union when the Blackstock Battlefield passage is completed.
“One of the things Palmetto Conservation Foundation does is we publish information on where to eat and stay and places of cultural and historic interest in a community,” Britt said. “We can promote Union the same way, providing information on where to eat, where to visit and where to shop. We can list everything Union has to offer.”
For more information about the Palmetto Conservation Foundation and The Palmettto Trail go to www.palmettoconservation.org
Editor Charles Warner can be reached at 864-427-1234, ext. 14, or by email at email@example.com.