Monday, February 29, 2016

The Swamp Rabbit - from Furman to Travelers Rest

It’s about 3 miles from Furman University to downtown Travelers Rest riding on the Swamp Rabbit Trail: the perfect weekend challenge on a warm, sunny day! From the Duncan Chapel Rd. intersection to Center St. is actually 3.5, but if a 7 mile round-trip is too much for the shorter legs in your peloton, there are plenty of spots along the way to park & ride – this is a very customizable stretch of trail (and less than 7 miles from downtown Greenville for those cycling sans children).

The parking lot at Duncan Chapel Rd. is convenient as it has space for more than a handful of cars. The old rail car to the side of the trail pays homage to the trail’s origins as a rail line connecting Greenville with Travelers Rest, and the trailhead features a convenient map, water fountain and vending machines. A southern gateway to the University, the trail runs adjacent to the softball fields for the first bit before crossing a small creek and running parallel to the University service buildings – a slightly less scenic section.

from left: view of the softball fields, Furman entrance off Duncan Chapel Rd., service buildings

Almost a ½ mile in, you’ll pass a gate through which you can access the road that leads over the impoundment of Swan Lake to the parking lot at the Trone Student Center. If you are looking for a lengthier route, the 1.5 mile lake hike loop starts at the student center and features scenic views of the clock tower and the lake, other points of interest including the rose garden, the Place of Peace, the Susan Shi Garden and the Thoreau Cabin. There are also a disc-golf course and public restrooms accessible from one of the three entrances onto campus from the trail.

Soon after passing the 26 ½ mile marker there is a pleasant little rest area with benches and landscaping. Carl Kohrt Drive is just beyond, with a gravel pull-off that fits less than 5 cars but can provide another spot to easily jump on the trail. We opted to park there on our most recent trip, as the round trip total was brought down to 5 miles: much more manageable for the two petit cyclists. The Furman trail system is also accessible from this point, which marks the northern boundary of the University.

Leaving Furman behind, we continued north and soon crossed Roe Ford Rd. Another dirt parking lot (this one with space for a handful of cars) and then a wide-open section that is home to a wildflower garden and footprints of the old warehouses that once stood on the spot, Paris Mountain visible in the distance.

After passing the 26 mile marker, the trail crosses under West Duncan Rd. and enters a section of the old rail bed that cuts through the terrain.  A small stream was running along the side – filmy, brown water led me to question its source. Otherwise this section is beautiful, and in the spring the canopy will form a tunnel to shade the trail. This stretch is also home to Chris and Kelly’s HOPE Fitness Park, opposite the Reedy River Baptist Church Pocket Park. While the pocket park is a simple bench in a pastoral setting, the fitness park has a variety of features allowing for an extensive work out, and is open from noon until sunset. Named in the memory of two brothers that lost their lives to addiction, the park was created by the Chris and Kelly’s Hope Foundation. This philanthropic organization supports programs helping teenagers and young adults beat addiction, and the White Horse Academy (a residential treatment program for boys ages 13-17 that it sponsors) can be seen up the hill.

We passed a cemetery and then entered a heavily forested section with fencing on either side protecting riders against a rather steep drop-off. Just before Old Buncombe Rd. there are the remains of an old structure down on the west side, the walls barely standing in their battle against time. On the north side of the intersection is a “Ghost Bike,” a memorial to cyclists killed on Greenville County Roads.

From Old Buncombe to Edwards St. is quiet forest, and it is rather suddenly that we emerged into the sunshine and Travelers Rest at the intersection. The gas station and TR History Museum are on opposite sides of Edwards Street, and then just as suddenly we were back in the woods. Although the trail runs parallel to Main St. for the next ½ mile, it is strategically shielded from the road by a thin strip of forest, punctuated only by brief glimpses of the town. A small trailhead signifies the proximity to Trailblazer Park and the TR Farmers Market, access provided by means of a staircase leading off to the west.

In downtown Travelers Rest the trail runs right next to Main St. The Spring Park driving range comes first, and then we passed plenty of familiar spots including the Whistle Stop, the Forest Coffeehouse (which has a prime outdoor people-watching area), Sidewall Pizza and the Café at Williams Hardware.

from left: the Whistle Stop, the Forest Coffeehouse and Cafe at Williams Hardware

 At the Center St. /Main St. intersection, the trail crosses over to the east side of Main Street via the pedestrian crossing. This is the Sunrift Adventures/Tandem Creperie and Coffehouse corner, a perfect spot to turnaround (after lunch of course!) The posted distance to Furman from Church Street (just a block south) is 9.1 miles to downtown Greenville, a reasonable distance for a longer adventure…

We stopped a little more frequently on the way south, taking a break in the fitness park before returning to our car. Final verdict; this section of trail has it all, from access to parks, restrooms and restaurants, plus the bonus of proximity to the University. Although the trail is narrow at points (and the portion running through Furman is a bit bumpy), it is more forested than the section we are used to that runs from Falls Park to Swamp Rabbit Cafe. We’ll be back for another trek, possibly pushing north from TR to see how far we can make it!

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