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Blueways-Greenways Project Showcases Recreational Opportunities in the S.C. Lowcountry

Jul 14, 2017

By April Turner, S.C. Sea Grant Extension Program

As community leaders in coastal South Carolina increasingly recognized the many-layered impact of blueways and greenways, they sought help planning and paying for those interconnected water trail networks and land corridors.

The S.C. Sea Grant Consortium stepped up, working with partners to create brochures, a Blueways-Greenways website and an interactive Blueways-Greenways app – all designed to encourage creation of more blueways and greenways and expand the use of the existing trail systems.

The effort kicked off in 2015 with a study group project, “Blueways-Greenways: Developing Examples as Models for Other Communities,” supported by the Consortium in partnership with the College of Charleston, the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments and the National Park Service. The impact is just beginning to ripple through the communities.

A live oak tree beside a river.

The Ashley River Blueway flows under Spanish moss-draped live oaks and past historic plantation homes. Photo by S.C. Department of Natural Resources’ South Carolina Wildlife Magazine.

“This project is a positive step in encouraging enhanced utilization and stewardship of an outstanding recreational resource,” said Eric Davis, director of the Dorchester County Parks and Recreation Department. “The map will help build community awareness of the Ashley River’s economic, recreational and other community benefits, as well as promote the need for long-term protection of its assets.”

Few waterways are more suited to blueway treatment than the Ashley River, which gained the designation thanks to work by American Rivers and Dorchester County. From its headwaters in a classic cypress-tupelo swamp in central Dorchester County, the river winds for about 30 miles past the remains of a tabby pre-Revolutionary War fortification as well as several impressively restored plantation homes and gardens. The once-skinny waterway broadens to several hundred feet wide in the brackish marsh leading to Charleston harbor.

A bicycle parked in front of the greenway entrance.

The West Ashley Greenway, built along a utility easement in Charleston County, serves as an example for communities considering projects in established neighborhoods. Photo courtesy Charleston Moves.

These blue and green trail systems are important to coastal economies, having the potential to increase property values, tourism and recreation equipment spending. In South Carolina, recreation-related activities generate $18 billion in spending, provide $1 billion in state and local tax revenue and account for 201,000 local jobs each year, according to the Outdoor Industry Association.

Blueways and greenways also provide a multitude of benefits to natural environments by protecting critical wildlife habitats, serving as riparian buffers and improving water quality. Trails, parks and other open spaces are important aspects of livability, providing opportunities for healthy lifestyles. Making exercise on these trails easier is one means of reversing the country’s obesity epidemic.

The Southeast has been a hotbed for new trail initiatives in recent years. In South Carolina’s coastal counties of Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester, more than 20 blueways and greenways have been created, including the Southeast Coast Saltwater Paddling Trail , the Ashley River Blue Trail and the Palmetto Trail .

The Sea Grant study group conducted surveys, interviews and public workshops to garner input from local residents, outdoor enthusiasts and community leaders. They brought together focus groups to discuss how existing projects had succeeded or struggled. And they used GIS technologies to better map and publicize existing blueways and greenways.

The effort created a blueways-greenways template for communities with limited resources. Tools and resources include a general information brochure on blueways and greenways, a brochure on funding opportunities, a comprehensive map highlighting the main features of the blueways and greenways in the region and an interactive web-mapping application accessible from mobile devices. The app highlights trail networks in a three-county region and enables planners and the public to search and view blueway and greenway trail features such as water access points, points of interest, weather and tide gauge information and trail infrastructure.

The results will guide future blueway and greenway trail planning at the community level and possibly increase the number of successfully funded blueways and greenways projects across the state. When recreation agency leaders such as Davis work on new blueway-greenway projects, they can use some of the study group’s work to help navigate the planning process. And other components of the study group’s effort help make the case for the economic and health benefits of blueways and greenways.

“The County’s parks and recreation master plan will certainly benefit from the mapping project as it will support waterway-related recreation and conservation recommendations in the plan,” Davis said.