Spanish Moss Trail’s Tunnel Links To ‘Rails-to-Trails’ Past

5 mins read

By Ron Callari

Tunnels in America made it possible for railroads to not only cross mountain passes, but also to open up America, town by town, from coast to coast. The first railroad tunnel constructed in the United States was the Staple Bend Tunnel built by the Allegheny Portage Railroad in 1831.

Flash-forward 150-plus years, the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy was established to form a nationwide network of trails created from abandoned railroad corridors. It was a way for history to be preserved by creating something new from what went before. There are now more than 2,000 of these trails in every state, including our own in Beaufort County.

The Spanish Moss Trail emanated from the historic Magnolia Rail Line, originally constructed in 1870. Its historical significance is most vividly evident at the Depot Trailhead located just a mile from downtown Beaufort. At this juncture, residents and tourists can view the restored depot before accessing the trail. As a city walk, it’s perfect for recreational or competitive walking, running, jogging, biking and inline skating. At its numerous rest spots, there’s even access to recreational fishing. Its natural and historical vistas also welcome leashed pets and motorized wheelchairs. 

How do I get from here to there?

Actually, the only thing this trail lacked to tie it to its railroad history was a tunnel. That was until now.

The path, which is being constructed in sections, is projected to reach 16 miles in totality, stretching from the Sands Beach in Port Royal to the Whale Branch River. Today’s existing 10-mile trail extends from Ribaut Road in Port Royal to Poppy Hill Road, just west of the Marine Corps Air Station. 

With the welcome addition of two Hilton hotels being built on the corner of Trask Parkway and Parris Island Gateway, however, it presented a unique traffic challenge. How do you accommodate vehicles entering the hotels’ parking lot off of Trask, traveling east or west, without conflicting with the Trail’s foot traffic? 

The city fathers’ ingenious solution: Build a 55-foot tunnel in the middle of the trails’ Segment 5, adjacent to the entrance to the new Home2 Hotel, which will open January 2019, followed by the Tru Hotel, which will debut next door in 2020.

Safety First

In addressing traffic coming off Trask Parkway from the east and the west, vehicles traveling at speeds more than 40 mph would have little time to react to those on the Spanish Moss Trail. This prompted Beaufort County councilmen, engineers and planning officials to seek solutions.

While trail purists opposed the new configuration, others saw advantages — a light at the end of the tunnel. 

Some were concerned with a tunnel you could proverbially not see the ending. Without light, this could create a hang-out venue of sorts, out of the purview of law enforcement officers.

The compromise reached was amenable. County officials would sanction the tunnel, if the developers would assume the expense of not only providing adequate lighting, but also one where trail users – upon the tunnel entry – would be able to see from end to end.

Trail users experiencing the passageway for the first time seem to be pleased. In fact, some bicyclists have stopped to cycle back and forth before proceeding on. 

“The tunnel improves the safety of the trail user, by creating a non-obstructive passage through a busy area,” said Robb Wells, President & CEO of the Greater Beaufort-Port Royal Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Anything that improves the overall visitor experience is a celebration for the CVB.”

As an added bonus, overnight guests will have quick access to the trail and tunnel from the front doors of the two hotels, making it an adjunct to their exercise regimens. Additionally the Home2 All Suites will feature an outdoor saline swimming pool and fitness center.

Ron Callari is the VP Sales & Marketing for HD Hospitality opening up the innovative Hilton brand Home2 in Beaufort, 2019.

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