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Always on the hop, the Swamp Rabbit Trail undergoes a makeover this spring

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If there is one reoccurring theme in the short history of the Swamp Rabbit Trail System, it would be its propensity for continual evolvement. Showing no signs of visionary complacency, city planners are spearheading a joint venture that will refashion the old railroad line-turned-multi-purpose greenway into an even more accessible entity within the sprawling Greenville community.

Last September, The Greenville Chamber (Upstate South Carolina’s largest business organization) launched the Leadership Greenville Legacy Project. This 10-year project will look to enhance and interconnect the existing park and trail systems in Greenville County.

“This program is Leadership Greenville’s way of honoring 40 years of developing leaders, while laying the groundwork for generations of more leaders,” said Ben Haskew, President and CEO of the Greenville Chamber at the time of the project’s initiation.

With the feedback gathered through surveying more than 500 trail users, a group of 18 community and business leaders developed a campaign known as The “Where the Trail Am I?” project. Highlights of this project include a three-pronged approach “to promote an even more enjoyable and safer experience along the Greenville Health System Swamp Rabbit Trail.”

The initial phase of the campaign will center on the installment of more information stations along the trail. The stations will provide not only general trail information for users, but also help direct them to local businesses within the vicinity.

Helping lead this project is Complete Public Relations’ President, John Bayonoski, who was named Greenville Chamber’s 2014 Young Professional of the Year. He says that there are plans in place to update the current station on Duncan Chapel Road where the trail bisects Furman University. New stations will eventually be erected at the future Swamp Rabbit Station in Berea near the intersection of Sulphur Springs Road, the Swamp Rabbit Café, the First Baptist Church in the Nicholtown community, and on the campus of Greenville Technical College.

“We believe the community has the opportunity to build many more using the template the team created,” said Bayonoski.

Wendi Rodgers, a member of this year’s Leadership Greenville class, was featured on a WYFF4 Local News segment last week where she expanded on the project’s aims and development. “The stations will serve as a hub where people can meet or also (seek) shelter in times of inclement weather,” said Rodgers.

The Swamp Rabbit Trail is the first trail system in the United States to use the E911 system with markers helping users pinpoint their exact location along 1/10th –of-a-mile increments. Since the beginning of April, members of the project could be seen stenciling in new mile markers as the old ones have undergone some noticeable wear and tear. While these markings help cyclists and runners discern distance on the trail, their main intention is to assure user safety. In the event of an incident that requires police or medical response, a user would need only to state ‘SR’ along with their location (e.g. SR274; kudos to the person that can name those exact whereabouts from memory).

According to Boyanoski, the majority of the trail markers will remain the same. The “Where the Trail Am I?” campaign has took place in the middle portion of the trail within city limits.

The final phase of The “Where the Trail Am I?” project involves the inclusion of community kiosks in neighborhoods that surround the trail. “The kiosks are going to be in different communities,” said Rodgers, “and tell about (its) history, different points you can visit- just a nice cultural piece for that community.”

One could argue that no stretch along the trail has witnessed such an economic boom quite like Travelers Rest has experienced the past few years. The city was a finalist, earlier in the year, in a national poll that voted on “America’s Coolest Small Town.” Restaurants like the Whistle Stop at American Café and the recently opened Swamp Rabbit Brewery and Tap Room on Main Street, such establishments have helped transform TR into more than just a quaint retirement community on the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Offsetting the fast-food bonanza and chain store makeup seen on Highway 25, downtown TR now exhibits a sort of avant-garde feel reflected in its local cuisine and outdoor lifestyle that the trail has helped foster.

The city, last year, earmarked $1.5 million for the construct of Trailblazer Park, a new performing arts and cultural center that has recently been completed. Local businesses are looking forward to a tradition good crowds attending Saturday night concerts beginning in May. Situated on the grounds of the old Travelers Rest High School, the park provides pedestrians with a spur trail directly to the Swamp Rabbit Trail.

On May 2, trail-goers can get a firsthand glimpse of these new additions in TR at the 6th Annual GHS Swamp Rabbit 5K, the Upstate’s largest single road race. Over 4,000 participants are expected to turn out for the event that will be followed by an after-race block party featuring refreshments, live music and many children’s activities.

With all of these recent developments, it easy to overlook the fact that the Swamp Rabbit Trail has only been operational a little under four years. Leadership Greenville’s Legacy Project is just the latest proof that long term economic vitality along with community health benefits can be realized through the implementation of government grants and local hospitality taxation.

“The tangible benefits of increased recreational opportunities only makers our community stronger,” said Boyanoski.

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