Cities hope for “Swamp Rabbit Trail effect” on local businesses
An eight-and-a-half-mile stretch of railway between the cities of Easley and Pickens will be converted into a multi-use trail system suitable for pedestrian and bicycle use. The trail is expected to have a local economic impact similar to the Greenville Health System Swamp Rabbit Trail’s influence on Travelers Rest.
Once owned by the Pickens Railway Company, the Doodle Line was originally built in the 1800s to connect the two cities for commerce and manufacturing. In 2013, the privately owned rail company informed both the cities of Easley and Pickens the track would be abandoned and available for purchase.
With resources secured by a combination of hospitality taxes and general funds, the line’s purchase price of $500,000 was split between the two cities.
Spinoff businesses such as restaurants and bike shops accompany a recreation facility like this, said Pickens City Administrator Katherine Hendricks. “The trail will give people a reason to think of Pickens as a destination.”
Since the Swamp Rabbit Trail was completed in Greenville County, more than 30 new businesses have been added to Main Street in Travelers Rest, said City Administrator Dianna Turner.
“The Swamp Rabbit Trail has impacted the city tremendously,” she said. “I would advise both Easley and Pickens to remain persistent as they move forward.”
A July 2012 market analysis by Arnett Muldrow and Associates showcased some of the Swamp Rabbit Trail’s long-term effects on Travelers Rest. The town’s retail trade area represented a $1.27 billion consumer market in 2012 with significant opportunities in restaurants, clothing and specialty home goods. The study predicted the economic impact would strengthen, especially in downtown restaurants and specialty retailers.
More than 70 percent of use on the Swamp Rabbit Trail takes place on Saturdays and Sundays, where some businesses within 250 yards of a trail access point are reporting close to $400,000 in annual revenue specific to trail users, said Julian Reed, associate professor of health sciences at Furman University.
Recreational trails can increase real estate prices up to 10 percent and are typically a boom for businesses and economic growth, Reed said. “I see very few disadvantages for the conversion of the Doodle Line in Pickens County.”
The Doodle Trail will dramatically improve the economies of Easley and Pickens, increase tourism, and provide the two cities with regional exposure, he said.
Both cities will be responsible for their own trailheads but will partner on proposed trail facilities and improvements.
The city of Easley has high hopes the trail will provide economic prosperity to existing merchants while adding new merchants, said Easley City Administrator Fox Simons. Eateries such as restaurants, coffee shops and ice cream shops could experience the greatest impact, he said. “We will have to wait and see what the market will deliver.”
A feasibility study completed in February by Seamon Whiteside highlighted the existing natural features along the Doodle Trail despite the corridor’s original purpose as a man-made transportation infrastructure.
Pine and hardwood forests, native shrubs, groundcover and several creeks extend along the rail line. In addition, the path provides views of the surrounding landscape, including open pasture and rolling hills.
Connections between the two cities and adjacent neighborhoods are anticipated along the trail with the opportunity to link places of worship, retail centers, recreation facilities and natural areas. Converting the Doodle rail line into a recreational trail and preserving the corridor for long-term public use will benefit the communities of Easley and Pickens as an alternative transportation route, according to the study.
The report presented the trail as a public amenity that will increase adjacent property values, fulfill a need for outdoor recreation opportunities, offer a safe route for bicycle commuting as an alternative to driving, raise recreational revenue, and revitalize local communities.
As Rails to Trails conversions become more common across the country, the collaboration of Easley and Pickens will begin with the removal of railroad ties along the eight and a half miles of track.
A completion date for the project has not been established, but officials said the timeline could be accelerated with the addition of grant money.