Master Plan Executive Summary
The Laurens County Trails Association offers this Trails Master Plan for the People and Communities of Laurens County to support the creation of a comprehensive, countywide network of various types of trails for the many benefits such trails will bring for all the citizens, communities, and visitors of Laurens County.
CHAPTER ONE: TRAILS FOR LAURENS COUNTY
The Laurens County Trails Association is a citizen-based, voluntary, non-profit, charitable 501(c)(3) organization that began to take shape in 2013 and was formally established in 2014 to:
- promote healthy lifestyles by planning and implementing trails for walking, running, hiking, biking, horseback riding, and paddling;
- support conservation of the county’s natural resources; and
- stimulate economic development through the use of these trails.
This master plan reviews the benefits such trails can bring to the people and communities of Laurens County, examines the conditions that would affect such efforts, and offers suggestions for possible trail locations and guidance for creating and implementing the plan.
The primary goal is to extend the Greenville Health System’s Swamp Rabbit Trail in Greenville County through Laurens County and to connect it to the Palmetto Trail in Sumter National Forest.
The Swamp Rabbit Trail in Laurens County would form a “backbone” trail to which other trails in the county may connect to link communities and places of interest. Such greenway trails will support walking, hiking, jogging, running, cycling, and other outdoor recreational interests for individuals and groups. The plan also calls for the creation of blueway trails along the county’s navigable waterways and horse trails in the county’s forests.
This plan promotes wise stewardship of the county’s natural resources, provides an alternative non-motorized transportation network, and shows compelling evidence for significant economic development and gain if Laurens County can capitalize on its current status as a “green oasis” between the rapidly expanding cities of Columbia and Greenville/Spartanburg and extend the widely popular and successful GHS Swamp Rabbit Trail through the county.
CHAPTER TWO: BENEFITS
The benefits from extending the GHS Swamp Rabbit Trail and establishing a trails network in Laurens County are many and varied. Trails promote better health and fitness. Studies demonstrate that physical activity is an essential component of a healthy life. Trails provide opportunities for people of all ages and physical abilities to engage in activities that improve personal fitness, enhance a sense of well-being, and foster positive social interactions.
Trails are a proven way to enhance economic development. The GHS Swamp Rabbit Trail has already generated an economic boon to the communities that are associated with it, and the extension of the Swamp Rabbit through Laurens County will prove similarly advantageous for its citizens and communities. Moreover, the additional mileage of the Swamp Rabbit extension through Laurens County will increase the trail’s popularity, and Laurens County would become the entry point for tourists from the densely populated coastal areas of the southeastern states. Furthermore, the connection of the Swamp Rabbit Trail to the Palmetto Trail makes Laurens County a unique tourist destination and would serve a greater variety of outdoor recreational interests, including backpacking, horseback riding, walking, cycling, and paddling.
Trails are good for the environment. Good health and the quality of life are associated with a healthy environment, such as clean air and water, and the environment is worthy of care in its own right. Trials can help preserve and protect the county’s valuable natural resources and provide opportunities for people to have healthy personal experiences with nature, now and in the future.
Trails provide a variety of cultural benefits. They can highlight important aspects of the county’s rich history and contribute to the county’s present-day culture. From the county’s role among the Cherokee Indians to its early settlement by pioneers and roles in the Revolutionary War, even regarding any of the county’s significant historical figures since then, trails can be crucial aids in preserving the county’s history, contributing to people’s education, and promoting community spirit among the citizens of Laurens County.
Trails offer the advantage of alternative, non-motorized transportation routes within the county. Studies have long shown that trails provide their own natural incentives for users by being separated from motorized traffic. Trails can offer safe opportunities for commuting to school, work, local businesses, other communities, and places of interest such as the Palmetto Trail, Sumter National Forest, Musgrove Mill State Historic Site, and the Swamp Rabbit Trail.
CHAPTER THREE: EXISTING CONDITIONS
Recent demographic studies reveal that Laurens County is a green oasis between two of the fastest growing metropolitan areas of South Carolina. The county’s location and abundance of natural resources, including 18 endangered plants and animals, are not unaffected by urban sprawl; they are attractive assets for citizens who participate in outdoor activities, which is a majority of South Carolina’s residents (54%). Furthermore, a trails network in Laurens County would support four of the top five most popular outdoor activities, which are running and jogging followed by fishing, biking, camping, and hiking or backpacking. Trails would also support the most popular activities of bird watching and wildlife viewing. Moreover, the county’s location as the junction for the GHS Swamp Rabbit Trail and Palmetto Trail, together with its location as the easternmost entry point for accessing the GHS Swamp Rabbit Trail, adds to the county’s attractiveness for outdoor recreation and eco-tourism.
Demographic studies also highlight the inevitable population growth of Laurens County, as South Carolina’s population grows 28% from 2000 to 2030. Consequently, a trails network can play an important role in the county’s strategic planning so that the quality of life for the county’s inhabitants is enhanced and not diminished. Trails would contribute to the improved healthiness of the county’s citizens, which presently is ranked generally poor (i.e., 48% physically inactive, 45% adult obesity rate, 74% poor diet, etc.).
The economic analysis of Laurens County in this plan shows how trails would contribute to the county’s economic growth, particularly in the areas of outdoor recreation and tourism along with their supporting businesses and support systems. Advantageous for Laurens County, also, is the economic potential from developing its historical and cultural resources.
Positive development trends reflect the county’s rising popularity for business and industry. Indeed, Laurens County and its largest cities, Clinton and Laurens, have all received statewide recognition recently for their economic development. Associated with such developments is the rise of cooperative citizen ventures through such entities as the Laurens County Chamber of Commerce, the Laurens County Development Corporation, the Laurens County Planning Commission, and community councils. A trails system would further enhance and diversify the business profile of Laurens County, resulting in creating more jobs.
Existing parks and trails provide a solid base for developing a trails network in Laurens County, however the lack of an unused railroad bed makes a rails-to-trails conversion impossible. Instead, the extension of the GHS Swamp Rabbit Trail through Laurens County and development of any other trails will require reliance on public roads and right-of-ways, the utilization of county property, access to utility right-of-ways, private property conservation easements, and cooperative arrangements with appropriate state and federal agencies. Fortunately, there is broad support for trails at every level, which is necessary for the success of any trails project but which also means the success of this project will depend on a significant fund raising program.
CHAPTER FOUR: PROPOSED TRAILS
The extension of the GHS Swamp Rabbit Trail through Laurens County and its connection to the Palmetto Trail is the top priority of this master plan. It is the longest trail proposed and will serve the largest number of citizens and communities across the county. The trail’s already established name recognition and popularity will attract visitors and commerce even as it promotes conservation of the county’s valuable natural resources. As the “backbone” trail of the proposed system of trails, it will also promote the development of shorter trails along the way that connect to it. Furthermore, connecting the GHS Swamp Rabbit Trail to the Palmetto Trail increases the overall attractiveness of Laurens County for outdoor recreational pursuits. In broad strokes, the proposed route would run from Fountain Inn to or near Owings, Gray Court, the City of Laurens property near Ceram Tec, Laurens YMCA, Laurens’ Little River Park, The Ridge, County Park, Laurens County Memorial Hospital, Sterilite Nature Area, Clinton, and the Palmetto Trail. Altogether, the trail would run around 45 miles through the county.
In addition to supporting the creation of short local trails in and around communities, the master plan also proposes some longer trails of 5 miles and more, such as from Ware Shoals to Cliff Pitts Wildlife Management Area and on to Lake Rabon Park, the City of Laurens, and GHS Swamp Rabbit Trail. The Clemson property near Cliff Pitts WMA is also conducive for a longer trail, as are the Belfast Wildlife Management Area, the Whitten Center, and the Sumter National Forest. The Clemson property (~500 acres) offers the most promising prospect for lengthy horse trails.
The plan also calls for five designated bike routes on state and county roads throughout the county. Cycling is one of the most popular and fastest growing outdoor activities, and Laurens County is already recognized as a leading cycling destination, as evidenced through the county’s annual Flight of the Dove event. These routes are distributed around the county and run 30, 50, 62, 45, and 24 miles, which together would provide over 200 miles of directionally guided routes for cyclists to enjoy the county’s natural beauty.
Three river trails are also proposed. Laurens County is rich in fresh water river resources, too, and the plan encourages the creation of public access points to the Enoree, Reedy, and Saluda Rivers for the benefit of the county’s citizens and the conservation of these vital waterways. Consideration is also proposed for blueways or hiking trails along Rabon Creek, Duncan Creek, and the Little River.
Also encouraged is the acquisition of the Whitten Center property and its development as a public park that could support a full range of outdoor activities: hiking, camping, cycling, horseback riding, fishing, etc. Its location would form an excellent gateway park for developing the county’s eco-tourism and provide an outdoor lab for the county’s schools.
CHAPTER FIVE: IMPLEMENTATION
The vision of this trails master plan is the result of input from hundreds of citizens throughout Laurens County who have contributed through public surveys, public meetings, letters of support and endorsement from the county and its city councils as well as from a broad range of organizations, institutions, and businesses in the county. This broad and deep support bodes well for the county’s implementation of this project. Together, the people and communities of Laurens County can create a network of trails that will improve the quality of life for everyone. Nevertheless, it will require a concerted team effort.
Since this is a citizen driven initiative, the plan will be shared first with the governing bodies of Laurens County for their consideration, feedback, and initial recommendations. The master plan will then be made available to the public through a variety of means, including public meetings. A revised master plan will then be submitted to the county’s governing bodies for their consideration for adoption.
Once approved, the plan will serve as a guide for conserving some of the county’s natural resources and creating a network of public trails. The top priority is the extension of the GHS Swamp Rabbit Trail through Laurens County and linking it to the Palmetto Trail. All other recommendations are secondary and should be pursued only in so far as they do not hinder the county’s efforts to connect the Swamp Rabbit and Palmetto Trails.
Funding is of chief importance. The plan and Appendix C present federal, state, corporate, local, and private sources for generating funds necessary for a public project of this scale. Also critically important will be the county’s capacity for creative arrangements on both public and private lands as well as the use of utility line right-of-ways and the generous support of many citizens. Trail design, construction, and maintenance will be governed by safety concerns.
CHAPTER SIX – CONCLUSION
The time is right for the people of Laurens County to work together to establish a network of trails and waterways that will enhance personal fitness, promote active lifestyles for healthier living, improve the quality of life in the county, contribute to the overall sense of community spirit, conserve natural areas, and stimulate economic development. There is considerable benefit for everyone throughout the county in the completion of this plan. Indeed, hundreds of citizens have already begun working together toward this goal for the benefit of all. The Laurens County Trails Association offers this Trails Master Plan for the People and Communities of Laurens County in full support of such aims.