Full article found – http://www.postandcourier.com/article/20150920/PC16/150929995/1177/next-step-for-east-cooper-bike-trail-is-public-support
By Robert Behre – September 20, 2015
MOUNT PLEASANT — The dream is ambitious, but supporters insist it’s possible: create an approximately 80-mile-long off-road path that would connect the Cooper and Santee rivers.
The East Cooper Land Trust recently spent $35,000 on an economic benefit analysis of what it’s calling the “East Cooper Trail.”
It will unveil that work publicly on Sept. 29 in hopes that it will generate enough excitement to take the idea one step further, said Catherine Main, the trust’s director.
Richard Morrison, chair of the East Cooper Land Trust’s board, said he hopes the public shows enough interest in the idea to get more people involved in making it a reality.
“As we get more and more crowded and you can only go places by automobile, I think this would be a really good way to link up some areas that currently are linked only by Highway 17 for the most part,” he said.
Unlike West Ashley — where dozens of neighborhoods are linked by either the West Ashley Greenway or West Ashley Bikeway — East Cooper has no old, abandoned railroad line on which to create a trail.
As a result, Main said it likely will take years, even decades, to plan, design and build a trail safe and accessible enough that parents wouldn’t hesitate to let their children use it.
“But if you don’t dream, it will never happen,” she said.
Bikes and cars? ‘Probably not’
The East Cooper Land Trust was created by Mount Pleasant in 2002, as anxiety over the town’s rapid growth was peaking.
Since then, the trust has protected more than 330 acres from development, but as the recent recession fades and a new building boom returns — and as the town continues to rank as one of the nation’s fastest-growing municipalities — it is poised to launch its most ambitious effort so far.
Main said the East Cooper Trail would be a linear park, largely off-road, spanning the 40 miles between the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge and the Santee River on the Charleston-Georgetown county line. Its route likely would wind through the region so its actual length might be closer to 82 miles.
About 107,000 people would live within a 15-minute bike ride to the trail, while 16,000 would live within a 10-minute walk, according to a new study by Alta Planning + Design.
The town paid for half of the $35,000 study, which also tallied the potential economic and health benefits. Mayor Linda Page said she is looking forward to seeing the results because she senses strong support for an off-road trail.
“Traffic all over the tri-county area is heavy these days,” she said, “and do bicyclists and pedestrians mix with heavy traffic? Probably not.”
Destination all its own
If the idea of the East Cooper Trail is warmly received, the trust’s next job would involve mapping a potential route.
Main said she already has talked to officials with Sullivan’s Island, the Isle of Palms, Awendaw and McClellanville — as well as to officials with major utilities, whose rights of way could form part of the route.
Main said the greatest challenge will be the finding a route through Mount Pleasant, where existing highways and neighborhoods — and less public land — offer fewer options.
Meanwhile, the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission, the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments and Charleston Moves also are planning regional bike and pedestrian trails.
Matt Moldenhauer, a planner with the Park and Recreation Commission, said there’s no denying that East Cooper needs a signature urban trail — one that would make people healthier and help them use a bike or their feet for shorter trips.
“We often talk about the trail itself being a destination, but there’s also the benefit that the trail can take you to other destinations,” he said.
‘You have to be opportunistic’
Main said the trust ultimately will try to bring governmental, business and nonprofit groups together around its vision for the trail. “This is a huge partnership project.”
The largest question looming over all potential trails — whether the low-line underneath Interstate 26 or the county’s People to Parks network or the East Coast Greenway or the East Cooper Trail — is how will it get paid for.
Main said it’s probable the trail would be designed and built in several phases, much like the Palmetto Trail that runs across South Carolina from the mountains to Awendaw. That trail, first established in 1994, still is missing about 150 miles of its 500-mile-long route.
“You sometimes have to go where you get the funding to do certain things,” Main said.
While much of the trail might occur on utility easements, excess road rights of way and public parks, Moldenhauer said a land trust may be better poised to strike agreements with private landowners.
“It’s a lot easier to talk to a land trust than have a town knock on your door and say, ‘We want your land,’ ” he said. “You always have to be opportunistic about it, and land trusts are really good at that.”
One big question is whether Mount Pleasant voters decide on Nov. 3 to approve a property tax increase that would generate about $2.5 million per year for recreation improvements, a new senior center, an arts center and acquiring open space.
Even if it passes, there’s no guarantee that future Town Councils would channel money toward the linear park.
But Page said enthusiasm over the trail — and acquiring other new public land — might encourage some to vote yes.
“Hopefully, it will get more voters out there,” she said.
Morrison said just securing the rights of way “is going to be a huge hurdle,” adding that the dream of the trail is a long-term goal that may be beyond the attention span of many voters and political leaders.
“But if we stick with it, I think it will be something really great.”