The dream of planners was of an uninterrupted trail stretching from the Upstate to the Lowcountry, a trail that could be used by hikers, bicyclists, campers and picnickers statewide. Now the dream of a Palmetto Trail is halfway to reality.
During a recent celebration of National Trails Day, it was noted that 242 miles of the planned 425-mile trail have been opened to hikers. While advocates are striving to add more and better trails, they are proud of the progress that has been made over the past decade.
Linking the different sections of the trail has not always been easy. Legal squabbles, rugged terrain and a lack of money have led the trail into several dead-ends over the years. Planners originally had hoped to complete the trail in five years but now say that won't happen until 2010 at the earliest.
The 20-mile Jocassee Gorges Passage, added in 2001, is the showpiece section of the trail in the Upstate. But other sections are expected to be added in the near future, including 51 miles in Union, Spartanburg and Newberry counties set to open this year, and a trail connecting Kings Mountain State Park in York County to Crowders Mountain State Park across the border in North Carolina.
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But not all of the trails are in wilderness areas. The West Columbia Riverwalk near the Capitol has become a lure for new housing development. Other sections of the trail traverse old railway lines. Also, a Braille trail crossing the South Carolina School for the Deaf and Blind in Spartanburg opened in 2005.
Some segments of the trail are less than ideal, with some running beside paved roads. And much of the progress in recent years has been on short trails, not the long stretches some had hoped for.
Nonetheless, the vision remains, and advocates are committed to the long trail linking the Appalachian Mountain Range in the north to the Atlantic Ocean in the south. That will require the cooperation of private landowners and the success of a number of legal battles to procure land.
But we continue to believe that the Palmetto Trail is one of the state's best ideas. The trail functions not only as an attraction for visitors to the state but also as a way to preserve South Carolina's most scenic -- and often most vulnerable -- natural landscapes. And, fortunately, those who are attracted to the chain of trails also tend to be the best stewards of the land.
South Carolinians owe a debt of gratitude to organizations such as the Recreational Trails Program, which helps find federal money to build new trails and improve old ones, and to Palmetto Trail supporters such as the Palmetto Conservation Foundation, S.C. Off-Road Enthusiasts and the Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association.
We look forward to the day when the southern and northern sections of the trail link up. On that day, South Carolinians can reassure themselves that they have preserved and enhanced what amounts to one of the state's greatest natural resources for generations to come.
The Palmetto Trail, begun more than a decade ago, is more than half completed.
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