Being like Edward Abbey (sort of)

This is for a local magazine, which I really hope has gone to print by the time this blog is posted. You might like it.

There are places in Greenwood that don’t feel like Greenwood at all. They don’t feel like work; they don’t feel like family.

They don’t resemble the routine parts of everyday life – not in the least.

But they are your recreation trails.

Rock Creek Trail

Rock Creek accounts for 1 mile of the trails acknowledged by the Greater Greenwood Parks and Trails Foundation. The county has five like Rock Creek, ranging from 1/8 of a mile to 2.8 miles, with a sixth along West Cambridge Avenue slated for construction in October

Natalie Parramore, the foundation president, calls Rock Creek “the most beautiful” of the bunch. Klaus Neubner, the retired Park Seed Company executive responsible for the trails’ upkeep, says “it’s a nature trail for sure.”

I couldn’t agree more. It was exactly where I wanted to be during a recent day off of work.

Rock Creek is a wooded connection between a field behind Self Regional Healthcare’s Express Medical Care at 102 Rockcreek Blvd. and Haltiwanger Road, near some apartments on Haskins Lane. There are a few places to get on the trail along the boulevard, which parallels most of it.

On this particular September day, I started at the Haltiwanger access and walked toward the always-busy S.C. 72 Bypass. There was something about the pond near Haltiwanger too appealing to save for dessert; I preferred to walk toward the bypass and turn around once I could hear cars sounding like automobiles.

That handsome pond – or “lake,” as Neubner calls it – can be seen through the trees on the right side of the trail, while one is still in a clearing dotted with manhole covers and striped with above-ground sewer lines. The water itself is surrounded by a well-traveled path of matted brush, offset by purple wildflowers, mutant buttercups and plants with leaves that look like holly and green maple leafs. There is some trash (bottles, cigarette butts, bags and so forth) probably left behind by folks fishing the pond, but it’s not too bad and even generates some proof of life.

Aside from the spontaneous rustling of animals in the woods, fish jumping every once in a while is the only sound one truly hears.

The pond bottlenecks into a delightfully murky, refreshingly unfishable swamp at its north end, showing off petrified tree limbs and stumps held captive by the stagnant water gently contrasting the loose meat hamburger banks. I didn’t follow the path through the thicker brush around the swamp; I was wearing shorts, know nothing about snakes and the tourniquet I always carry doesn’t actually exist.

This unsettling recollection made my return trip to the trail much quicker than my nosy stroll out to the swamp.

Back on Rock Creek, the trail abandoned the long leaf pines and entered a forest of what looked like gum trees as it left the utility company’s playground. Here, the ground seemed bothered by my steps, snapping and echoing below the 50-foot trees.

I saw hummingbirds near a magnolia, weeds that look like wheat and stumbled – more than once – on some round tree fruits that reminded me slightly of walnuts. The whole place seemed darker, more shaded. Even the silence had an echo.

The thought-provoking quiet was broken by the thud of my step on a wrought-iron bridge, built by Neubner’s volunteers and wobbling no more than expected. Below was a creek; along the path shortly thereafter, a spot the Earth had been cleared for the path creating banks barely covering a mass of tree roots with cicada-holed dirt.

These roots, in front of their towering trees and measuring up to 6 inches in diameter, appeared a suitable maze in which to get lost.

Twenty paces more brought Rockcreek Boulevard into view. Pavement looked colorless after so much thought. The trail became noticeably but unobtrusively graveled and welcomed my attention back.

“Klaus and company sure do a good job,” I thought, seeing my first piece of litter along the trail – a bag from Cracker Barrel that looked like it’d been tucked among the weeds for a while.

It was tough to spot.

A squirrel 20 yards ahead grabbed my contration, breaking its hustle across the trail to pick up one those walnut-looking things before putting it down to look at me and spring into some brush.

More petrified wood was at this spot. Parramore said this trail was built in 1998, cleared courtesy of a $75,000 grant from the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, but the fallen, barkless, wonderful timber I saw appeared much older than that. Some of it looked pale, striped like a candy cane via cracks, splits and holes. It could’ve passed for driftwood.

Near the albino logs I saw the most alluring resident of the Rock Creek Trail: patches of dry, dying weeds – about three feet tall and arrow-straight. Individually, the strands looked as plain, lifeless and unnoticeable as they truly were. But filling open spaces along the trail as they swayed in symphonic unison, they seemed tall, united and remotely heroic.

Shortly thereafter was a cement drainage ditch I would very much liked to jump with my mountain bike. It connected the creek to a nearby apartment complex pond visible from the trail, guarded by manicured green grass, signs and a pump in the middle shooting a wimpy stream of water 10 feet high. Nearby stood a heron unimpressed.

“The pond, pool, playground and tennis courts are for Rock Creek residents only,” the signs stated, prompting me to get my feet off the grass. The heron flew overhead as I went back to my shanty. It was much less manicured and much more interesting on the trail, anyway.

I could tell my halfway point was approaching at the next wrought iron bridge. The trees were thinner. Ambient noise increased. The brush groveling at the trees’ feet looked a few paces away from being dissipated completely.

I turned around before it was too late.

Luckily, my return trip brought the same sights, but in reverse order. It actually exposed a part of the trail I had not seen the first time through: a loop that skipped the first bridge I’d crossed and used another, closer to the utility company’s clearing.

It was there I found a sewer line over a creek, about 18 inches wide and 20 paces long, coal black and rusty. I felt obligated to tight-rope my way across. After all, I’d just spent 90 minutes exploring the woods, felt like Indiana Jones and had excellent health insurance. Plus it would have only been an 8-foot fall.

Trouble was, nothing I wanted to see was at the other end of the pipe. It had been the journey I found invigorating, thought-provoking and irresistible.

I turned around and did it again. I’d been through this before.

Heritage Trail

 If Rock Creek is Greenwood’s most beautiful trail, the 2.8-mile Heritage Trail could be a close second. It runs between Palmetto Bank, 906 S. Main St., and a spot on Florida Avenue near S.C.225. Unlike the case with the Rock Creek trail’s signage, which Parramore described as a work in progress, it’s relatively easy to find this trail, boasting parking areas at each end.

Heritage is the only of the foundation’s five trails that is paved – a $300,000 endeavor made possible in 1998 by the state, local donations and the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, a nonprofit group in Washington, D.C., aiming to “create a nationwide network of trails from former rail lines and connecting corridors to build healthier places for healthier people.”

According to Parramore and Neubner, land to build the trail was given by former owners to the county, which pays nothing toward maintaining the 10-foot-wide asphalt or keeping it clear of tree limbs, rocks and other debris that has made it impassable at times for cyclists and baby strollers.

That job has been left to the 81-year-old Neubner and anyone else willing to volunteer.

Some cyclists in Greenwood say they prefer to avoid the trail, which is not included in the annual 62-mile Festival of Flowers Bee Buzzin’ bike route, because of gravel, branches and dirt covering sections of the Heritage. The condition of the trail is unpredictable, they say, and sharp railroad bed rocks and sticks have popped expensive, high-pressure road bike tires like balloons, causing crashes and damage to their rides.

Many of this growing population in Greenwood have subtracted the trail from their Saturday morning routes.

Still, Neubner grins as he talks about the trail’s evolution: a “leafy tunnel” to the nearby Greenwood Genetic Center from the path, accesses to medical offices and apartment complexes along the way and, naturally, success at keeping the kudzu vine at bay. These have made the trail a destination more popular than ever for runners and walkers in the morning, elderly folks during the day, “dog enthusiasts” in the evening and romantics on the weekends.

From the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy website:

“There’s no better place to take in Greenwood’s industrial and railroading past than along the aptly named Heritage Trail, which extends more than 2 miles from the town center south to outlying countryside. Throughout the mid-20th century, five railroads ran through town, crisscrossing and paralleling one another. …

“A half-mile along the tree-lined trail, look for the old Coca-Cola building, which bottled soda through the 1950s. In the early 20th century, a circus set up tents in the adjacent field, and the rail line was used to transport animals and equipment for a downtown parade. Farther down the trail stand the century-old Panola and Mathews mills, part of the nationwide Abney Mills and Greenwood Mills textile companies. On the west side of the trail, the Grede Foundry used to cast automobile parts and other products. The paved trail ends amid open fields and scattered homes.”

While Neubner agreed the trail’s history could be its strongest selling point, he credited the city with offering police, keeping the grass along the quarter-mile between Spring and South Main streets mowed and sending community service workers to help with the trail, making widespread support for the Heritage another attribute worth touting.

“There was a man we had plant flowers (near the trail entrance sign on South Main Street),” Neubner said, smiling. “He was so proud; he couldn’t believe he did that. He started coming on his own, after his community service was up.

“It’s always fun when something like that happens.”

Going somewhere

 Lovely, refreshing and tranquil as they may be, Parramore said she’d like at least some of the trails connect so they could serve a more practical purpose. The real estate agent is seeing more people from other areas of the country moving to Greenwood who want to be able to bicycle or walk to work, or have a safe place outside to exercise.

“These are quality of life elements they want for their families,” she said, adding some of these new residents use Greenwood as a bedroom community to Greenville.

Trails such as West Cambridge – a city-maintained gravel path running 1.4 miles from West Cambridge Park before ending rather abruptly at one of the busiest sections of the S.C. 72 Bypass – offer decent walking conditions but don’t lead anywhere safe for children on bicycles. A start might be connecting, officially, the Heritage to West Cambridge, which are only separated by a mile or so through Uptown Greenwood.

Attempts have also been made to integrate the 1.5-mile Ninety Six and 1/8-mile Grace Street trails with an overall system, but they too have faced various obstacles.

Regardless, connectivity is a matter Parramore is aware of – a goal more and more people are sharing. A bolstered system of parks and recreation seems only a matter of time away, and these parks can lead to trails.

Given the beauty of what they’ve already built with the resources they have, it seems bound to happen.

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