Weaving History, Nature and Health into a Day Well Spent
by Michael L. Sanz
Photography by Tony Pierro/ajpierrophotography.com
A developing treasure is winding through northern Beaufort County. It’s providing residents and visitors an opportunity to turn back time, enjoy stunning views and maintain a healthy lifestyle. The Spanish Moss Trail meanders atop the historic Magnolia Railroad Line for 6.5 miles connecting Port Royal and Beaufort. The trail continues to expand, with expected completion of 11 miles by Labor Day of 2016. The trail will extend past the Marine Corps Station through Poppy Hill Community to Clarendon Road. The 12-foot wide paved path blends in beautifully with neighborhoods, tidal waterways and rustling forests.
Dean Moss, former general manager for the Beaufort-Jasper Water and Sewer Authority, is a visionary, environmentalist and avid biker. The train stopped running in 2003 and Dean’s vision for the Spanish Moss Trail began taking form. The Water and Sewer Authority attained a right of way along the railroad tracks. The Port Authority purchased the land, leasing it to Beaufort County for 99 years. In 2012, The Friends of the Spanish Moss Trail was founded as a 501(c)3 organization. Dean became the volunteer executive director. He synchronized strong partnerships with several organizations including Atlanta Path Foundation, James M. Cox Foundation, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Beaufort County and Beaufort Memorial Hospital. Sissy Perriman, Public Awareness and Development Director, summarized the goal of this community project. We want to see the quality of life improved for every resident and visitor spending time in northern Beaufort County. Today, Dean’s vision has become a reality.
On a cool, sunny morning I headed south on the trail towards Port Royal. Several people were on the trail using various modes of transportation. I passed couples of all ages, chatting co-workers, dog-walkers, photographers, families and runners. The joggers were entertaining, distinguished by noises made as their bodies searched for adequate supplies of oxygen. People traveled on all types of non-motorized transportation. There were the serious bikers garbed in sleek helmets and aerodynamic outfits. Casual bikers blazed along in jeans and flip flops. Roller skiers shuffled and moms pushed baby strollers. Everyone I passed shared a warm smile or a peaceful, “Good morning.”
Walking along, I had time to reflect and observe. The historian in me imagined the sounds and sight of the train passing along this trail for 133 years. The railroad was the lifeline of the community. Lumber and produce were transported for shipment through Port Royal. Marine recruits were introduced to Parris Island. After World War II, the rail line shortened and shipments consisted of lumber, clay, brick, gas and groceries. In the early 1900s the surroundings were dramatically different. Northern Beaufort County was clear cut. The only trees standing were a few ancient living oaks. Forging further along the trail, I stopped. I turned, looking both ways. The view was surreal, as a concrete road stretched as far as I could see. For some quirky reason, poetic phrases passed through my mind. Walt Whitman’s, Song of the Open Road stuck in my head. The vibrant life of the trail expressed itself. Thick brush resonated with the songs of warblers, chickadees and nuthatches. Brown pelicans buoyed in open water in the marshes. Herons and egrets stood eerily still in shallows looking to snap at passing fish. I heard a conversation coming from a bank of the marsh. Peering through tangled shrubs I spotted two buzzards negotiating how to best access the innards of a deceased alligator. They squabbled and danced as they began processing the circle of life.
The trail is meticulously maintained. Signs clearly inform with directions, information and reminders. The path is safe for wheel chairs. Motorized versions are allowed. Water bubblers, pet mediation portals, and portable restrooms are located along the route. Benches are placed in several spots for resting, enjoying the water views, and reading. Yes. I did say reading. I walked over a small bridge about a half mile from the Depot Road entrance and noticed a cubby housing children’s books. An hour later I passed back over the bridge. I saw a mother and her son looking through the books. The little guy picked one out, mother and son sat, and the boy began reading aloud. Wow! What a special moment in a special place on a special day.
The goal for Friends of the Spanish Moss Trail is the completion of a fourteen mile tract extending from Port Royal to the fishing pier in Seabrook. They are on schedule. These final three miles need funding. The Board of Directors has been presented with a 1.75 million dollar challenge grant. This money becomes available if the Friends can raise $750,000. The Board has $250,000 in the coffers. Dean and Sissy are aggressively leading the charge through adoption projects, fundraising activities, awareness and education.
As we shift into spring and we all begin thinking about fun, healthy, outdoor activities, plan a day to explore the Spanish Moss Trail. I guarantee you every participant will have a great day, heading home with smiles and stories to tell. So open those digital planners, pick a day, call friends and family and hit the trail…The Spanish Moss Trail!