- Associated Press - Sunday, November 27, 2016

SPARTANBURG, S.C. (AP) - For Monty Mullen, walking the Mary Black Rail Trail is wonderful way to enjoy the outdoors.

Mullen has been using the 1.9-mile paved trail, located just south of downtown Spartanburg, since it opened in 2004. She began walking there on weekends with her sister, and continues to go out to get exercise and socialize with neighbors.

“It’s so interesting to see the diversity of people on the trail,” Mullen said. “You can see anybody on it.”

The success of rail trails such as the ones in Spartanburg and Greenville has other cities in the Upstate looking at ways to create trails of their own. In addition to being places that promote physical activity, the trails have helped spur economic development nearby, said Ned Barrett, trails coordinator for Partners for Active Living.

Among the new businesses is Andrew’s Atomic Dogs at 1011 Union St., which opened near the trail in July. Owner Andrew Morrow Jr. said the restaurant plans to place picnic tables near the trail next summer and construct a concrete walkway leading to his business. Morrow said brush already has been removed from the area behind the restaurant so it’s more accessible to trail users.

He also recently placed a sign next to the trail letting people know where the restaurant is located. He’s even passed out menus on the trail.

“The trail has a big impact for this area because it brings people to the area,” Morrow said. “You have other businesses that are relocating here.”

Partners For Active Living Executive Director Laura Ringo said the Swamp Rabbit trail in Greenville is a model of how other rail trails can be developed. Opened in 2009, the Swamp Rabbit draws thousands of visitors every year and has created new businesses all along its length.

“One thing that made the Swamp Rabbit so successful is that they had almost 20 miles of abandoned rail so they were able to do significant implementation all at one time,” Ringo said. “For Spartanburg, we had 2 miles of abandoned rail so we are having to connect the dots without having a straight shot outlined for us.”

Ringo said work continues to connect various trail systems, with the Mary Black trail serving as a hub. Trails on the city’s east side and west side, once connected with the Mary Black trail, will add 21 more miles for recreation.

“Our goal is over the next five years to connect those 21 new miles so it would be a 32-mile urban trail network,” Ringo said. “They are big tourist attractions, and one of the other things that is a really interesting aspect of Spartanburg’s system is we are connecting to blueways. We are really trying to connect blueways and greenways to draw tourists for recreation in Spartanburg.”

The Mary Black trail alone draws about 70,000 users annually, according to Ringo. In comparison, the Swamp Rabbit trail draws about 500,000 people annually.

Elected officials in Lyman and Landrum said they’re eager to develop rail trail systems in their communities, too.

Lyman Town Councilman Larry Chappell said he’s optimistic that a rail trail will be developed soon near Lawrence Street close to downtown. The railroad bed has been removed and the asphalt project was put to bid on Nov. 8. The South Carolina Department of Transportation is overseeing the project.

“When the trail is installed, it will be about three-quarters of a mile,” Chappell said.

The project has been bid several times, but the submitted bids were beyond what the DOT was willing to pay, Chappell said. He said money has been approved for the project, once a contractor can be found.

Lyman Treasurer Greg Miller said work could begin as soon as June 2017, pending approval of a bid. The trail would connect with sidewalks leading to the town’s amphitheater and a future playground behind town hall on Groce Road. Chappell said he would also like to see a dog park added to the site, so people on the rail trail would have somewhere to take their pets.

“People are walking all the time,” Chappell said. “They are trying to be more healthy now and get out.”

Landrum hopes to turn an abandoned Norfolk Southern rail line that runs from the city to Saluda into a rail trail. Landrum Mayor Bob Briggs said for the past six years, the city has been interested in developing the line in partnership with Spartanburg and Polk counties. The line could be used for a trolley, or for bicycles and pedestrians, he said.

The old rail line starts just south of Landrum. Briggs said if developed, it has the potential to draw people from throughout the region.

“As many active bicyclists we have in the area, it would be a great path for them to get on,” Briggs said.

Deputy County Administrator Jim Hipp said the county also would be interested in having the line from Landrum to Saluda developed into a rail trail.

“Trails continue to be for both wellness and health and economic (development),” Hipp said.

Local developer Andrew Babb said there’s a lot of potential for additional business and residential development around the Mary Black trail.

“I think anytime a group of people are in the area (on the trail) it creates some sort of business opportunity,” Babb said.

In 2014, he developed 314 South Townhomes on South Pine Street next to the trail. The project includes 16 housing units. Another five housing units were developed at the site in August 2015. Babb said the residents like having easy access to the trail and nearby businesses.

“It’s a good way to get around downtown,” Babb said.

Spartanburg City Councilwoman Laura Stille said some underused and undeveloped buildings along the trail could still be developed, especially near Union Street. The Vintage Warehouse and the Hot Spot Skate Park are examples of how property near the trail can be redeveloped, she said.

Vintage Warehouse, at 1201 B Union St., first opened on Pine Street near the rail trail before moving to Union Street on June 21.

“We liked it because we had a lot of walk-ins on the trail so we wanted to stay on the trail,” said Carmen Blanton, Vintage Warehouse co-partner. “When we moved to Pine Street, we weren’t aware of the trail, but once we were on the trail, we knew we wanted to be on it again.”

Co-partner Jane Crook said the business plans to add an outdoor deck facing the trail next summer and install several sculptures for customers and trail users to enjoy. Vintage Warehouse also opened Union Street Coffee Bar on Oct. 29, providing another place for trail users to take a break.

Blanton hopes more businesses will locate to the area.

“We would love to see a really nice restaurant on the trail,” she said.

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Information from: Herald-Journal, https://www.goupstate.com/

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