Swamp Rabbit Trail in Greenville, SC
in 1999, the city of Greenville, SC purchased the roadbed of the defunct Greenville & Northern Railway for use as a light passenger rail line. The plan quickly fell apart, but not before the city acquired the narrow strip of land that cut right through the center of the town. An editorial in the local Greenville News suggested using the land for a bike and hiking trail, though at the time it seemed so inconceivable that they described the idea as an “unrealistic dream.” After years of hard work by local public and private visionaries who faced intense headwinds from “legal entanglements, regulatory roadblocks, financial issues and citizen opposition,” the 20-mile multi-use Swamp Rabbit Trail opened in 2009. Today, over half a million people use the trail every year, adding an annual $7 million to the local economy. Residents love it, tourists love it, businesses love it. By 2012 the Greenville News was already describing the once unrealistic dream as “one of the most popular assets in Greenville County” noting that its success “proves that when it comes to such trails, if you build them they will come.”
Jacksonville’s first plan for an urban trail network was Henry Klutho’s “Emerald Necklace,” a ring of interconnected greenways, parks, and trails which he proposed in the 1910s. For the next century, it was viewed much like the first proposal for the Swamp Rabbit Trail—an ‘unrealistic dream.’ Until it wasn’t. Since 2013, Groundwork Jacksonville has been working to marshal support, resources, and leadership from around the city to make this dream a reality. Groundworks forged a partnership with the city, led feasibility studies and design, enlisted private donors, and built support for and passed a gas tax rate increase at the ballot box. Construction on The Emerald Trail broke ground last August. The first section of the trail scheduled to open this fall. With continued support, the entire 30-mile project can be completed before the end of the decade.
The Emerald Trail, when complete, will spur economic development, neighborhood revitalization, recreation, wellness, public art, and tourism. The economic impact will be measured in the billions. The positive impact on current residents and future generations defies easy measurement. How would Jacksonville be different today if city planners had implemented Klutho’s design a century ago? If you live in Jacksonville, we encourage you to get involved. Community support is essential. If you don’t live in Jacksonville, we encourage you to agitate your local leaders into building a similar project in your community. If you live somewhere that already has an urban greenway, you aren’t even reading this because you’re currently out for a stroll, patronizing some local small businesses, so cheers to you.
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