Business along the Greenville Health System Swamp Rabbit Trail continues to boom, according to the latest annual report on trail usage and economic impact conducted by Furman University Health Sciences associate professor Julian A. Reed.
The study, released today, surveyed users as well as businesses along the trail. The majority of business respondents reported sales and revenue increases between 10 percent and 85 percent, resulting in annual revenue increases of up to $400,000.
“I think a real reason this trail was built was because it was going to improve the economy,” said Reed, who presented study findings at a press and community event today. He said it can take cyclists (who make up around 80 percent of trail users) 90 minutes to get to Travelers Rest from Greenville, which translates to hungry and willing customers for trailside restaurants and cafes. “That’s a great business opportunity,” Reed said.
The study, now in its third year, reported a 20 percent increase in trail users for the year ended June 30, 2013, compared to the previous year. The trail could have had more than 500,000 users during that period – more than 1,000 per day – based on the study’s sample observations and surveys.
“Twenty five percent of those are coming from outside the Upstate,” said Greenville County Recreation director of greenways Ty Houck at the event. “Which means tourists.”
The study analyzes data gathered during direct observation of trail users for four days during each season, from intercept surveys of trail users, from random-digit dial phone surveys, from focus groups and from interviews of businesses near the trail.
“The trail is busy all day long,” said Travelers Rest business owner Andy O’Mara, who will open Sidewall Pizza Co., a gourmet pizza shop, with business partner Loren Frant in six weeks.
They originally bought a 2,200-square-foot old tire shop in downtown Travelers Rest as a home for their canoe business, Merrimack Canoe Company, but realized the space wasn’t going to work. They like the area so much, however, that they decided to shift their focus. Without the trail – and the economic energy that came with it – much of the development in Travelers Rest wouldn’t have been possible, said O’Mara.
Greenville County Council decided to buy the right of way for abandoned rail lines in 1999 for $1.3 million, said Greenville County Council Chairman Bob Taylor at the event. The rails and ties were removed in 2007, which allowed them to pave the first few miles of the trail and open it to the public by 2009. “It has the highest use of any facility that Greenville County Recreation runs,” said Taylor, who said he hopes the trail will one day extend to the CU-ICAR campus.
Many community members credit the trail for revitalizing downtown, not only in funneling customers directly to businesses, but by creating jobs for the area and increasing the tax base for the municipality, said Reed.
“Businesses were not doing well in Travelers Rest, but right now it’s the hottest thing out,” said Greenville County Councilman Joe Dill, who represents the district containing Travelers Rest. “It’s wonderful to see what’s happened for the business community.”
Pictured: Dr. Julian Reed, right, talks with Bob Taylor, Greenville County Council chairman, after Dr. Reed presented the five-year study on the Swamp Rabbit Trail at a press conference in Travelers Rest. Photo by April A. Morris