Trail of the Month: April 2010
South Carolina's Swamp Rabbit Tram Trail
For years, Greenville, S.C., has been a gateway to the Appalachians. The city sits in the northwest corner of the Palmetto State in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains—and less than an hour's drive from the Great Smoky Mountains. On clear days, you can see the ancient peaks looming blue-gray and misty on the horizon. The largest city in upstate South Carolina, Greenville is also conveniently located halfway between Atlanta, Ga., and Charlotte, N.C., and right along Interstate 85. It's a perfect base camp for all sorts of upland excursions.
In the last 10 years, though, Greenville has taken huge steps to make sure its downtown is as much a destination as a staging point, including developing the city's first rail-trail: the Swamp Rabbit Tram Trail, which runs 13 miles north along the Reedy River and connects to the city of Travelers Rest.
The Swamp Rabbit is part of a broader effort to revitalize Greenville's city center and Main Street. Visitors to downtown will now find train-themed splash fountains and other green spaces. You can sample one the city's four independent theaters, or catch a show at the 16,000-seat Bi-Lo Center. Or you can step away from urban high-rises and hustle and enter Falls Park on the Reedy River, where Liberty Bridge skips right over the cascading waterfalls. And you can access nearly all of these attractions within easy reach of the trail.
So these days, while you may see and sense the mountains near Greenville, you'll be plenty tempted to hop on the Swamp Rabbit and explore the city first.
Almost 10 miles of the rail-trail are complete and paved, roughly divided into a northern and southern section. When all 13 miles are built and connected over the next couple years, trail users will be able to head from Greenville right up through Furman University, where they can link with existing campus pathways. They'll get to pass remnants of the area's industrial and textile mills, as well as the history in Travelers Rest, once a popular stopping point for Conestoga wagons and livestock drovers in the 1800s.
Despite all of this recreational potential, Greenville for years was a city short on multi-use trails and outdoor fitness opportunities. The blueprint was there, and so were plenty of supporters. So as soon as the Greenville County Recreation District (GCRD) started planning the trail a few years ago, a host of eager partners signed on.
One of the biggest contributions came from the Greenville Hospital System, which saw the Swamp Rabbit as a resource to support the total health of the community, including levels of physical activity.
"The South is known to have higher obesity rates, which was a big selling point when pitching the idea of the collaboration [between the GCRD and] the hospital," says Mike Teachey, community relations director for GCRD.
To help develop and publicize the trail, the hospital provided $1 million to the GCRD for naming rights, calling it officially the Greenville Hospital System (GHS) Swamp Rabbit Tram Trail. In May 2009 the hospital helped organize a 5K to celebrate the official opening of the trail. Nearly 1,900 runners lined up for the event, more than double the number expected.
"The overall community support was great," says race director Chad Carlson. "People were excited to be a part of an inaugural event, and to be the first ones using the trail."
Race organizers sanded down leftover railroad spikes and turned them into plaques for awards. The spikes came from the old Swamp Rabbit Railroad, the trail's moniker and the nickname for the Greenville and Northern Railroad that once operated along the corridor. Enthusiasm for the trail continues to grow, and race planners are expecting 3,000 participants for the 2010 event, set for this May.
Of course, the trail's appeal has extended well beyond the traditional fitness crowd. "We knew that runners and bikers will obviously take advantage of the trail for exercise, but one of our goals was to develop the trail as a way to get people out and exercising who normally wouldn't," says Ty Houck, greenway director for GCRD. That vision has already become visible on the trail.
"I've been running on the parts [of the Swamp Rabbit] that have opened up, and I'm seeing more people of different ages and races week after week beginning to use the trail, from walkers to joggers to bikers to people pushing strollers," says Bill Pierce, professor and chair of health and exercise science at Furman.
That's great news for Greenville and the rail-trail community, and just one more reason to visit upstate South Carolina for a dash of Blue Ridge charm.
For more information, photos and user reviews of the trail, or to post your own comments, please visit TrailLink.com.