South Carolina and the Palmetto Trail
a child growing up in the '60's, I was a witness to many protest
movements. Dr. Martin Luther King's Gandhi like civil disobedience
still moves many today. The student protests of the Vietnam war
are looked upon kindly by historians. The "Ecology" (environment)
movement is stronger today than ever.
there is a protest movement in South Carolina that may not
stand the test of time. The "NO Rails to Trails Committee"
has gathered a full head of steam in Peak, South Carolina.
Rails to Trails
Trail is South Carolina's newest long distance trail system
and is being built with donations from private sources. When complete
it will travel from the mountains to the sea. Much of the trail
mileage is on abandoned railroad grades making it one of the longer
"Rails to Trails" projects in the Southeast. The Palmetto
Conservation Foundation , which coordinates the trail, recently
bought 11 miles of rail corridor from Norfolk Southern. According
to Ken Driggers, executive director of the foundation, it is one
of the more picturesque sections of the trail.
Carolina is a bucolic town perched on the banks of Broad River.
Many of the residents here are upset that the trail is passing through
their town. This major uproar has caused the formation of the "No
Rails to Trails Committee". Recently this "committee"
sent a threatening letter to the Palmetto Conservation Foundation.
In it they threaten legal action to stop the trail citing laws that
are over 150 years old. Lewis Shealy, the mayor of Peak, has made
the statement "If they (hikers) want to walk why don't they
get behind a lawn mower". Other residents have been heard
to say that they don't want that "type" of people passing
through their unspoiled community.
Lack of Services
A 1996 resolution
passed by the Town Council of Peak states that the majority
of the residents are elderly and are concerned about the influx
of strangers that the trail may bring to their community. Peak is
so small that it does not have Police or Sanitation department.
The fear is that the increased litter and "strange" faces
may change the way of life in the postcard perfect town. Increased
litter and the inevitable crime that may follow has caused this
issue to become a newsworthy item here.
Scare the "Old
hikers would consider these issues to be legitimate. In this town
of Grandmothers and Grandfathers one does not have to look
far to find one that resembles their own. The question is, what
can be done to allay these fears. An unscientific survey, done recently
by us, on a weekend hike in South Carolina, revealed that 100 percent
of hikers polled did not want to scare people that reminded them
of their Grandparents.
twist to this to this tale is that area hunters oppose this trail.
Their fear is that there may be some restriction on their
activities because of the presence of hikers. This is highly
unusual because hunting groups are normally allied with hikers in
the grab for land. In other areas, in nearby parts of the
state, both groups peacefully co-exist. Conservation is both parties
common goal. This leads to some interesting questions. Why is it
OK to fire weapons near the 48 houses that will border the trail?
Are hikers more dangerous?
Rails to Trails program has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme
court on three occasions. It appears that the residents of Peak
may have an uphill battle. There isn't any doubt that litigation
can become expensive. The Palmetto Conservation Foundation operates
primarily with donations. Will taxpayers have to foot the legal
bills for Peak in an un-winnable case?