Nature's Calling: Swamp Rabbit Trail and Laurens County

Everyone in Laurens County should look closely at the Greenville Health System’s Swamp Rabbit Trail and work together to extend the trail from Fountain Inn to the Palmetto Trail in Laurens County. Already, the Swamp Rabbit is an American success story for its popularity, health benefits, and role as a catalyst for economic development. Years in the making, it opened officially as the GHS Swamp Rabbit Trail in April 2009. A subsequent three-year study of the trail’s usage by Dr. Julian Reed of Furman University revealed that from 2011 to 2013 the annual number of users rose to over 501,000. People go to the Swamp Rabbit for recreation, transportation, personal fitness, fellowship, and just enjoying the great outdoors. And the number of users continues to climb as the now 21-mile trail garners awards and national attention. Indeed, this year it is ranked in the top five Rails-to-Trails projects in the nation and by the time this column is printed may very well have received top honors. Trails promote better health and fitness, too. Studies persistently show that physical activity is an essential component of a healthy life, and trails provide opportunities for people of all ages and physical abilities to engage in activities year-round that improve personal fitness, enhance a sense of well-being, and foster positive social interactions. Of course, this is why Greenville Health System contributed generously to establishing the Swamp Rabbit, and it’s why all health systems and people who care about better fitness and enhanced quality of life should also contribute in whatever ways they can to promote trails. We need such help in Laurens County. Data from the latest statewide survey (2012) indicate that the citizens of our county are among the State’s most unhealthy in the areas of adult obesity (45.1%), unhealthy diet (74.2%), adult smoking (22.8%), and physical inactivity (48.7%). Readily available trails could help citizens become healthier. Then there’s the economic development aspect of the trail. Have you visited Travelers Rest lately? The Swamp Rabbit made Travelers Rest a destination, and the economic benefits are everywhere apparent. Established businesses have seen steady—even dramatic—gains, new businesses have been created, and property values have increased. Interestingly, the study does not address the “in house” benefit of citizens spending their money at “home” or the economic impact of the trail elsewhere in the county, but non-Greenville County residents (a quarter of trail users) contributed $6.7 million annually to the local economy during those three years. Similar trail renaissances have occurred elsewhere around the country. Simply put, trails make sense and lots of cents, too—millions of them. Extending the Swamp Rabbit south from Fountain Inn would make communities in Laurens County “destinations” even as it would enhance the health, quality of life, and economic standing of our county’s citizens. Laurens County also has an advantage as a “green oasis” between metropolitan areas. There’s further gain from linking the Swamp Rabbit to the South Carolina Palmetto Trail, a hiking and mountain-biking path that runs from the mountains to the sea, especially if camping areas were created to facilitate the longer cycling and hiking trips people seek. I haven’t even touched on the rapid growth of blue trails for canoeing and kayaking or horse trails. All this and more is treated in the Trails Master Plan for the People and Communities of Laurens County produced by the Laurens County Trails Association, which is receiving a first reading from community leaders now and will soon be available for public review and input. I hope everyone will give it close attention and get involved. Laurens County could easily become a major destination in the Upstate’s rapidly expanding and nationally recognized outdoor recreational market. (In this column, “Nature’s Calling!,” Dr. Bob Bryant will be offering information and thoughts on a broad range of topics on the outdoors, especially for the people and communities of Laurens County.)

My Clinton News

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