Palmetto Trail Extension Project Progresses in Greenville County

CLEVELAND, SC (FOX Carolina) – “The design phase of 20 miles of track is almost complete.”

Kristen Austin of The Nature Conservancy says big things are happening at Jones Gap State Park — good news for many upstate neighbors who love the outdoors.

“We’re providing new parking areas that will create new access points,” she told FOX Carolina. “We are going to have new campsites.”

The Palmetto Trail expansion took years to prepare. Austin says his organization provided some of the research to design it. She also adds that this project serves more than one purpose.

“It really is a project where people and nature thrive together,” explained Austin. “We protect our natural resources while making them available for the public to enjoy.”

“Thousands of acres are currently protected in this mountain bridge area,” added Scott Park, director of land conservation at Upstate Forever, another environmental group focused on land preservation in the area. UF’s primary involvement centers around working with landowners to incorporate land.

UF also identifies what the park calls “critical” land and water, to ensure that as the trail is built and the park expands, the area maintains its natural beauty.

“A lot of people think that the land they’re going through, you know, the roadway will always be protected, it’ll always be green forever,” he said. “And it’s not. In that case, he WILL be protected forever.

“It is detrimental to our community if we don’t have these organizations trying to preserve property – so our quality of life can continue,” added Greenville County Councilor Joe Dill, whose district is the where the project is taking place.

Dill says the “quality of life” aspect is what makes it more than a purely recreational or environmental business; the county also sees real benefits in a project like this. The Mountain Bridge Wilderness area where it takes place sees over a million visitors a year.

“People come here and see what a wonderful place it is to live,” Dill said, explaining how much of a part of Greenville’s identity – the reason many people choose to buy homes or visit – is rooted in the outdoor experiences it provides.

Dill says the county formed its own land trust in 2022 to help with preservation efforts, and even allocated $500,000 in this year’s budget to match funds provided by environmental groups for the area. He also says there is more money on the way.

It’s music to the ears of trail enthusiasts.

“We actually discussed moving here,” Elizabeth Rowe said Wednesday at Jones Gap State Park with her family.

She and her stepdaughter Maria told FOX Carolina that Jones Gap is their favorite state park they’ve been to.

“We live in central Florida, where there’s not a lot of nature,” Rowe explained. “They are mainly tourists and attractions, and for us nature is the best attraction.”

She and her family say they are completely on board with the trail expansion and look forward to returning upstate several times before and after it is completed.

“The sound of the river is so relaxing, and we bring the chairs and the grandkids and they can have all the activities they want!” she says.

Designs for the last few miles of the Palmetto Trail expansion project are expected to be completed by the end of May. Then it’s just a matter of transforming the dirt. FOX Carolina will keep you updated on developments in the Jones Gap area online and live.

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