Cutting a Trail
In the spring of 2013, citizens involved in developing trails in Laurens County realized there were various citizen groups working independently to develop trails in the county. Those groups were not aware of each other and, in some cases, were unknowingly competing for the same grants. These groups, and the general public, were invited to open meetings to share information and identify opportunities to work together. The result was a recognition that a formal organization was needed resulting in the decision to form the Laurens County Trails Association (LCTA).
A team of volunteers was formed to design this fledgling organization. They worked through the fall of 2013 to define LCTA’s mission & structure. Late in the fall of 2013, the organizational team named a Board of Directors, and LCTA was turned over to the Board in January of 2014.
In the spring of 2014, the Board of Directors created LCTA’s by-laws, established LCTA’s legal status, developed a publicity plan, defined officers, and developed staffing requirements. The Board then began soliciting initial support from county governments, businesses, schools, and organizations. By late spring and summer, twenty-one organizations in the county had committed their support to LCTA’s initiative to establish a master plan that would include extending the Swamp Rabbit Trail through the county.
LCTA applied for a federal assistance grant from the National Park Services’ (NPS) Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program (RTCA) in the summer of 2014 and was one of the few applicants to be accepted. Through this partnership, NPS personnel provide guidance and expertise for LCTA’s development of a master plan for Laurens County, including assistance with identifying the most feasible route for extending the GHS Swamp Rabbit Trail. In the fall of 2014, NPS and LCTA developed the project plan for creating the Master Plan. Also in the fall of 2014, LCTA succeeded in its bid to be incorporated as a non-profit charitable 501(c)(3) organization.
In the spring of 2015, LCTA collaborated with the NPS/RTCA to conduct open public input meetings to learn about their views regarding the development of a countywide Master Plan - what is important to them about trails and where their priorities lie. In addition to learning about LCTA’s mission and work, attendees made valuable contributions in identifying the county’s important natural, cultural, and historic resources.
Also in collaboration with NPS/RTCA, a survey was developed and conducted, both at the public meetings and online, to more deeply probe interests, concerns, priorities, and opportunities.
The results of the public input meetings and the survey demonstrated very broad support for LCTA’s work and set clear priorities:
- Primary uses will be walking, hiking, biking, running, enjoying quiet time, and observing nature.
- Desired access and destination points are Clinton, Laurens, Sumter National Forest, Fountain Inn, and Gray Court.
- Most usage will be weekly, often on weekends.
- Very strong community support for extending the Swamp Rabbit Trail – 92% in favor of doing so.
Since then the LCTA Board has been working on creating the Master Plan. In addition to documenting existing natural and historic resources, proposed segments of the GHS Swamp Rabbit Trail have been identified and prioritized, on-road bicycle routes have been defined and adopted by the Laurens County Council, opportunities for blueways (water routes) have been defined, and a team has been formed to develop an equestrian plan.
The goal is to complete the Master Plan in 2016 and to begin its implementation.