If you’ve ventured north of downtown Greenville along the Swamp Rabbit Trail in recent months, then you’ve likely remarked on some noticeable changes being done on the popular pathway. From the entrance to Falls Park in downtown, to the trail’s extreme northern edge, spans roughly 10 miles. It is along this portion where the 17-mile trail is experiencing a visible alteration.
Construction is currently underway for the Swamp Rabbit Station up where the trail passes into the Berea community. A pocket park is scheduled to be built to refurbish a 70-year-old box car, a remnant of the defunct Greenville-Northern Railroad line. The park is being designed as a gathering point for “families, cyclists, and runners.”
Just to the north of the Swamp Rabbit Station, there is a terrific stretch of trail between Sulphur Springs and Watkins Bridge Road for some great interval training. The stretch spans just over two kilometers and distance markers have been accurately painted to discern interval splits. Now you can know when you’ve hit 400 meters or one-kilometer without even looking at your watch. I find this workout agreeable for road race training as the stretch more appropriately simulates a course’s terrain than a track.
Last week, a drink machine was placed adjacent to the Swamp Rabbit where the trail enters Furman University (at Duncan Chapel Road). While I wasn’t thrilled to see Pepsi drinks being sold at this particularly dispensary, logistically, it made sense to put a refreshment option at this location which is over four miles north of the Swamp Rabbit Café and still a good three miles from Travelers Rest. As a frequent user of this portion of the trail, I fear this area by the old abandoned train will become more of a socializing destination than a stop on the trail. Parking, already sparse in this lot, could turn into a traffic nightmare now that more people may be bribed to come out on the trail knowing they’ll be treated with a soda afterwards.
Early in September, while on a run at this very intersection where the trail crosses into Furman’s campus, I noticed refreshments being sold (presumably by university students) at the abandoned wooden warehouse that lies here. This area was part of the old Montague Village that once included a store and a cotton gin. In 2010, plans were underway to begin a housing project for Furman residents on the overlooking bluffs of this section between Watkins Bridge and Duncan Chapel Roads before the economic recession postponed construction. However, plans have resumed to develop a 16-lot housing community on the same grounds. Ty Houck, Greenville County’s director of greenways, says there is a growing desire for residents to relocate near the trail.
“The overwhelming impact of the Swamp Rabbit with the pure volume of it is, it’s sustainable enough and it’s enough of a draw that just mere connection to this 10-foot-wide piece of asphalt is a marketing niche,” Houck told The Greenville News.
The old Monaghan Mill, near the popular Swamp Rabbit Café, was transformed into luxury lofts back in 2006 and includes a pool, 24-hour fitness center and an 18-seat theater for its residents. Best of all, the lofts are but a few hundred meters to the access of the Swamp Rabbit Trail.
Up towards Travelers Rest (referred to as “TR“ by locals), construction is underway on a performing and cultural arts amphitheater that will be built on the grounds of the city’s former high school. A concrete pathway now connects the amphitheater with the trail just south of TR’s post office. The addition is part of a long-term, $1 million project. Due to the heavy rain that hit the region over the summer, the completion of the project has been delayed until later this year.
The Swamp Rabbit Trail opened for operation in 2010 under the auspices of the Greenville Hospital System (GHS). The trail replaced the historic Swamp Rabbit rail line that opened in 1888 and ran from Greenville northward to River Falls. The railway got its signature name when men would ride the train through the nearby swamps, shooting rabbits along the way. Originally intended to become a light commuter rail and greenway system for the City of Greenville, the development was altered in 2005 to serve as multi-use trail system.
A 2012 study estimates that more than 350,000 people use the trail annually. Added trail use has also meant more pedestrian passing over some busy road intersections. To help alleviate this risk, flashing lights were placed along some dangerous spots of the trail (like Watkins Bridge Road) to warn drivers of trail crossers.
On top of the fitness boom the trail has provided Greenville County residents, the Swamp Rabbit has helped spur economic growth, especially around downtown TR. A Thursday night summer concert series, sponsored by Charter Business and Furman University, recently concluded with great fanfare. The town’s oldest café is slated to reopen its doors in Novembers after sitting vacant since 2009. Located just beyond the town’s gazebo plaza and with the Swamp Rabbit Trail running right behind its back doors, the Whistle Stop at American Café will offer traditional Southern Cuisine along with a rooftop dining experience.
The restaurant’s owner, Vickie Vernon Hawkins, is enthusiastic about the duel advantages of luring trail goers to the eating establishment while also proudly “preserving a landmark.”
“People will come up to the caboose, order their food, and then they can take it up to the rooftop to eat,” Hawkins told The Detroit Free Press. “It’s a new concept for Travelers Rest.” And a concept that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago before the Swamp Rabbit Trail became “the main artery” of the Greenville area. Earlier in the year, the GHS also announced plans to expand the trail’s northern corridor by at least another mile, taking it all the way to Heritage Elemantary Northwest Middle Schools along Highway 276.
With all of the negative press surrounding incidents that have taken place on the Swamp Rabbit this year, it’s a welcoming sign to know that the trail system is still evolving as an invaluable public asset. So ardent are local residents when it comes to the Swamp Rabbit Trail that over 200 hundred runners, along with several law enforcement officials, took part in “Take Back The Swamp Rabbit Trail” on September 19. The five-mile run at 6:00 in the morning, was intended to renounce the recent stint of crime incidents that have occurred along the trail. Even with the proposal of added police patrolling and the installment of extra security cameras to deter misconduct, recent additions are an indication that the Swamp Rabbit Trail has yet to realize its full potential.