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County planners hope tourists and residents eventually will be able to pause during walks or bike rides to chat with strangers on benches, watch dolphins swim or learn area history from signs posted along a trail.
But, initially, they'll get a simple asphalt path.
With a $1.04 million federal grant and $261,000 in local money available, planning for the first leg of Beaufort County's Spanish Moss Rail Trail is turning from the fiscal to the physical.
"The county is basically looking at the spine of the trail. That is what we're trying to develop," said Billie Lindsay, a county special-projects planner. "As far as the extra amenities, we're working with the city of Beaufort to get that in."
The county's role in construction of the trail is straightforward, she said. The county will lay down a 12-foot-wide trail, probably made of asphalt, and perhaps install safety signs. The path will be suitable for walking, biking, in-line skating and similar activities.
Lindsay expects construction to begin in August and take six months to a year to complete. The first leg is 2.2 miles between Allison Road and S.C. 170, but the rail-trail could eventually stretch 14 miles from Ribaut Road to the Whale Branch River.
Meanwhile, the city is considering ways to connect the trail to street intersections, neighborhood accesses, trailheads, mini-parks and canoe and kayak launch points.
More than 20 potential access points for the initial 2.2 miles of trail were identified during a recent public-input planning study.
A small portion of the trail will be in the town of Port Royal and could connect to the proposed Port of Port Royal development, according to town planner Linda Bridges.
The Beaufort Depot also could become a centerpiece of the route, said Craig Lewis, co-director of the city's Office of Civic Investment. The trail could run through the depot building and commercial and residential buildings could be built around it.
"You get this sort of really interesting environment that occurs where you have industrial operations that are occurring on the periphery of it, but in the center you have this regional trail network of bicyclists and pedestrians and runners and rollerbladers and whatever else coming right down through the middle of it," Lewis said.
Residents are getting involved through a recently formed nonprofit group, Friends of Beaufort County's Spanish Moss Rail Trail. Among the group's contributions could be signs identifying animals, plants and significant physical areas and providing historical information, group leader Jane Frederick said.
"I think it's great because what you want it to be is just a big asset for the whole community and tied into it as much as possible so everyone can benefit," she said.
Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufort.