Photo above: Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling, center, explains the process of building something for the community from an idea, land acquisition, funding and final construction to a group of middle schoolers at the Spanish Moss Trail. Later the students were asked to make recommendations as to how the popular trail might be improved upon. Photos by Bob Sofaly.
By Kat Walsh
The Young Leaders of Beaufort get what they ask for. Just ask the mayor. The group, composed of seventh- and eighth-graders from the nine Beaufort County middle schools north of the Broad River, meet monthly to engage in a civic-minded activity.
“One of our regular stops is the Spanish Moss Trail,” says Mayor Billy Keyserling, who played a key role in creating the group three years ago. “Last year they recommended that we put historical markers on the trail, and sure enough, different groups were able allocate the money needed to do so.”
For their April excursion, the group walked a section of the Spanish Moss Trail and then planted 20 trees in the city’s new tree farm at Southside Park.
“The lesson for the day was to show the students some of the wonderful things in our community didn’t just fall out of the sky,” said Keyserling. “We talked about how it’s much more efficient for the city to grow their own trees now instead of buying fully grown trees in the future. And we also talked about how in the future, they will be able to ride the trail as adults and perhaps show their own children what they did.”
At the end of their day, the Young Leaders met for a brainstorming session to answer the question, “What would you recommend to improve the Spanish Moss Trail?”
The recommendations, recorded by Lady’s Island Middle School students Brandon Garcia, Myracle Seay and Kaitlyn DuBois, included posting more maps (both on the trail and leading to it), adding trash cans and water fountains along the trail, and posting security cameras in specific spots.
Time ran out during their discussion, but the Young Leaders were in favor of vendors – ice cream, coffee shops and bike rentals were mentioned – operating along the trail.
And they’re not the only ones.
In 2014, Nick Gregoire was looking for a home for his new coffee shop and bike rental business and thought one of the buildings around the Depot Building, across from the Depot Road trailhead, would be a perfect spot. But when he approached the City Council about renting, he was told that the area was zoned Limited Industrial District, preventing retail rentals.
However, progress was being made.
In September 2015, the Beaufort City Council, citing the area’s “potential to foster businesses and economic activity that supported trail users and enhanced trail activity,” passed a Unified Development Ordinance to permit “trail-related” uses and artisan workshop in the Depot Road Limited Industrial use area.
The ordinance allows for two types of businesses: an artisan studio/workshop and a restaurant/retail that caters to users of the trail, specifically the sale, rental, repair of outdoor recreation equipment, goods or clothing.
Beyond its legislative growth, The Spanish Moss Trail has also grown in popularity (it welcomed 36,500 users last year) and length (it opened 4 more miles of completed trail).
“My bike rental customers think the trail is wonderful. I get lots of good feedback,” says Gregoire, who went on to find an ideal location for Pluff Mudd Coffee and Bike Company on Paris Avenue in Port Royal. “But they do comment that places to eat or drink along the trail would be nice.”
He says at least 70 percent of his in-store renters already know about the trail and intend to ride it, but almost 100 percent of them need help finding the closest trailhead on Smilax Ave.
“I have small maps as well as a big map on the wall. And the staff has pretty much memorized the turn-by-turn directions.”
An avid cyclist himself, Gregoire believes that the trail has become not only a destination, but also a highway for locals to commute to work.
“I ride my bike here every chance I get. When traffic is heavy, I can be at work quicker biking on the trail than driving.”
And the trip is much more peaceful.
“For 2017-2019, the objectives for the trail are the construction is the much-anticipated extension of the trail from Ribaut Road to the Sands Beach in Port Royal and then from Clarendon Road to the Whale Branch River,” said Libby Anderson, director of planning for the city of Beaufort. And, if the recommendations of the Young Leaders are taken as seriously as they were last year, it might not be too long before we also see a few more maps leading to the trail and a few businesses along it.
About the trail
The Spanish Moss Trail ‒ The Lowcountry’s Rails to Trail ‒ is a nearly 7-mile greenway located in Northern Beaufort County, according to spanishmosstrail.com. The trail is a 12-foot wide, paved path dedicated to those who want to walk, run, bike, fish, skate, scoot or stroll ‒ offering Lowcountry water and marsh views, coastal wildlife viewing, and historic points of interest as it meanders through Spanish moss-draped neighborhoods.
Since 2013, four phases of the 10-Phase Master Plan have been completed and are open for public enjoyment, connecting the city of Beaufort and the town of Port Royal. When the trail is fully developed, it will be approximately 14 miles in length. Funding for the Spanish Moss Trail is made possible by public funding and private donations.