The possible addition of a recreational trail in Pickens County has been the topic of great discussion over the last few months.
The “Rails to Trails” project involves an eight-mile stretch of the Pickens Railway between the cities of Pickens and Easley that is intended to be purchased by the two cities and converted into a multi-use trail system.
“We, as the city of Pickens, the council and administrator, are in agreement to purchase half of the railroad along with Easley,” said Pickens Mayor David Owens.
Both cities would like to see some manner of contribution by the county as well.
“This project is a community wide project. We hope the cities of Easley and Pickens as well as the county can come together for the betterment of the community and get this project done,” said Easley City Administrator Fox Simons.
Several trail surveys have been conducted by the Pickens County YMCA and the Easley Chamber of Commerce yielding a combined 87.5 percent result of those in favor of the trail, but when discussed during the open forum portion of a County Council meeting, the debate was less one-sided.
Residents expressed their opinions in the public forum where some argued that the proposal was unnecessary and would increase crime, violate privacy rights, and do nothing to promote tourism.
Others contended that the path would provide a valuable resource for bikers, walkers, runners, and would attract tourism to Pickens County and promote health in the Upstate much like the Swamp Rabbit Trail that spans from the city of Greenville to the city of Traveler’s Rest.
“Traveler’s Rest experienced a lot of the same concerns that the residents of Pickens County expressed during their open forum, but none of those concerns materialized into reality for Traveler’s Rest,” said Traveler’s Rest City Administrator, Dianna Turner.
As a pro-active step towards security, Greenville County employed two full time officers that exclusively patrol the Swamp Rabbit Trail.
There have been many parallels drawn between the successes of the Swamp Rabbit Trail in Greenville County to the proposed “Rails to Trails” idea in Pickens County.
“We know the success and economic impact that towns like Travelers Rest have experienced, and when the same type of thing was brought up in our community, the people already had a positive feel, if it worked in Greenville, why not here,” said Ambassador of the Easley Chamber of Commerce Ryan Kouvolo.
According to a study conducted by Julian A. Reed, Associate Professor of Health Sciences at Furman University, a total of nine managers and owners of retail businesses along the Swamp Rabbit Trail were interviewed following the first year of its use.
All of the retail establishments were either directly on the path or within 250 yards of a trail access point and were questioned on the impact of the trail to their businesses during year one.
According to the reports, the majority saw an increase in sales and revenue stretching from 30 percent to 85 percent with only one of the nine businesses reporting that the trail had no impact on their business.
One business moved closer to the trail and saw a 30 percent increase in sales and one business decided to open as a result of the trail being built.
When questioned about the advantages and disadvantages of the trail, the businesses reported that advertising had been made easier due to the new commerce and people in the area with one establishment reporting that business had more than doubled since the trail opened.
Disadvantages included a lack of parking and a slight increase in utility bills due to trail users making restroom stops.
The Swamp Rabbit Trail connects the cities of Greenville and Traveler’s Rest and has been linked to the revitalization of both cities.
“A lot of businesses that have been located here have done so because of the trail. We believe that the trail has made a huge impact. At the very least, it has people talking about Traveler’s Rest,” said Turner.
Cities like Pickens and Easley are anxious to include their names in the discussion of Greenville and Traveler’s Rest.
“Our track record will show that we are targeting our efforts to bring in new businesses, and the trail, when you look at cities like Traveler’s rest, is another tool in making Pickens a destination,” said Pickens City Administrator, Katherine Brackett. “Our focus is to support existing businesses, recruit new businesses, and promote tourism, and it is also a valuable partnership with the city of Easley.”
The Swamp Rabbit Trail has been a source of economic success for the areas in which it covers and cities like Pickens are following that pattern.
“We are not reinventing the wheel, we are using proven methods that hundreds of others cities have successfully implemented,” said Bracket.