Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Hop around Town: Greenville's Swamp Rabbit Trail Is Jumping with Activity

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Hop around Town: Greenville's Swamp Rabbit Trail Is Jumping with Activity

Article excerpt

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Back in the days when the Reedy River in South Carolina served as the heart of Greenville's industrial textile corridor, a rail line ran along the river and through several marshy areas northwest from downtown Greenville toward the city of Travelers Rest. The line was so bumpy that the train almost hopped along the tracks, resulting in its nickname "Swamp Rabbit."

"The Rails to Trails Conservancy notified some of the local leaders in the community that the rail corridor was starting to go through the process of abandonment," says Ty Houck, director of greenways with the Greenville County Recreation District. "Purchase of the property was funded through the county council and a lot of those costs were recaptured through salvage of the steel rails and railroad ties."

Using funds from Greenville County's 2 percent hospitality tax, grants from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Transportation Enhancements and Recreational Trails Program, and state transportation and tourism funding, the city and county collaborated on creating a 10-mile greenway called the GHS Swamp Rabbit Tram Trail long the rail line and through existing parks, which was later expanded to more than 13 miles. Four miles are in the City of Greenville and nine are outside the city in Greenville County. Construction began in 2007 and is expected to continue for a few more years as the trail is extended to its complete length of 18 miles.

"When this opportunity came along, yeah, it was a big investment and people were wondering if anyone was really going to use this thing," Houck recalls. "The county council was being told by their constituents everywhere they went that one of the main things the county should look at is connectivity, walkability, access to schools, and so on."

While there still isn't a firm estimate of how many people are using the trail, Brian Graham, greenway and sustainability manager for the City of Greenville, once counted more than 300 people on the trail in two hours during a fall weekend day. He expects that summer days have even more traffic, with late April to late October being "very busy."

"It appeals to a broad range of individuals," Graham explains. "Some people are buying bicycles for the first time in 20 years. Families are looking for a safe place to ride; they're looking for a free place to recreate.... It's a safe and aesthetic place to run or walk."

Some of that activity is generated by the Greenville Hospital System (GHS), which has partnered with the county to sponsor the trail for 10 years. Dianna Turner, city administrator of Travelers Rest at the northern end of the trail, is thrilled at the turnout for special events, such as the recent Third Annual GHS Swamp Rabbit 5K in May.

"We had 4,300 participants and probably a couple thousand additional spectators, so we essentially doubled the population of our town with one event and that's exciting for us," Turner says. "It just opens a whole new realm of possibilities both economically and from a recreation standpoint."

"What we love best about this trail is that it will afford all residents--no matter what their age or athletic ability--the opportunity to be active and get fit," says Rebecca Crown, GHS 5K event coordinator with the Greenville Hospital System. "The GHS Swamp Rabbit Tram Trail reflects GHS's commitment to transforming health care and improving the health of the community."

Along with its popularity for recreational users, the Swamp Rabbit Trail is seeing commuter traffic as well. Houck says that an economic impact study is underway but at least 6 percent of trail users are using it to get back and forth to work. To encourage this trend, the county is examining where current bus routes cross the trail and is then adding stops there. Some of the trail's storm shelters are also doubling as bus stop shelters, allowing the county to take advantage of transportation funding for the shelters. …

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