Scenic rails to trails project taking shape in South Carolina

  • Follow Rob Pavey

Frank Clayton wants today’s hikers and cyclists to enjoy the same scenic vistas that delighted South Carolina’s rail travelers of the 1800s.

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The Mill Creek railroad trestle is a focal point of the Savannah Valley Railroad Trail. The structure will be retrofitted with a bicycle and pedestrian bridge across the top.  SPECIAL
SPECIAL
The Mill Creek railroad trestle is a focal point of the Savannah Valley Railroad Trail. The structure will be retrofitted with a bicycle and pedestrian bridge across the top.
Video: Augusta Outdoors
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“Part of what we’re doing is developing the history of this whole area – and there is a lot of history,” said Clayton, chairman of Savannah Valley Trails Inc.

The organization has been quietly and carefully planning 35 miles of trails using former railroad right of way along the Savannah River and Little River portions of McCormick and Abbeville counties, and possibly beyond.

“The total concept is to build a trail from McCormick all the way to Calhoun Falls, and this is along the old Savannah Valley Railroad route,” he said. “We also want to tie it in to three state parks: Baker Creek, Calhoun Falls and Hickory Knob.”

Since volunteers began clearing segments of the trail in 2008, about nine miles have been completed – and recently made more accessible by a local family’s willingness to share their land.

“The landowners near the trail allowed us to build a new trailhead on their land, which borders the beginning of the trail,” he said.

The generosity of the landowners – Hugh and Henry Brown – was acknowledged Saturday during a ribbon cutting that officially opened the entry point, named after their father, Hugh Brown Sr.

Railroads of yesteryear stopped at every depot, plantation and community. Although many of those sites are barely recognizable or nonexistent today, the concept of the Savannah Valley Railroad Trail includes signs to help visitors understand the region’s past.

The current segment of the trail begins on Barksdale Ferry Road, not far from Savannah Lakes Village in McCormick County. It winds about six miles along former railroad bed, past homesites and cemeteries, and dead ends at a historic wooden trestle over Mill Creek.

“We still have to build a walking bridge across that trail, so we are looking for funding to help with that,” he said.

The trestle, however, is destined to be one of the main focal points of the trail.

DAM STOPLIGHT: Frequent visitors to Thurmond Dam were delighted last week to see that the stoplight and one-way traffic lane over the structure have been removed after more than two years.

The reason, according to Thurmond Lake project manager Scott Hyatt, is that the renovation and re-welding of the dam’s 23 spillway gates has been completed, and the equipment has been removed.

Final re-striping of the affected segment of U.S. Hwy. 221 will be completed this week.

SOUTHERN NATIONALS: Got your earplugs, sunscreen and beer money?

For the 27th consecutive year, boaters from across the nation return for the Windsor Jewelers Augusta Southern Nationals dragboat races, which was renamed after the local business became a major sponsor of the event.

Activities include Friday’s “test and tune” day at the Savannah River race site, followed by the annual “night of fire” demonstration at Augusta Common. Qualifying rounds will be held Saturday and final elimination races conclude Sunday afternoon.

MORE ONLINE

For a guidebook to the Savannah Valley Railroad Trail and its historical sites, go to savannahlakes.com.


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