Through most of Tom Vitt’s 17 years on the Grand Strand, he’s sensed little public passion for biking.
But over the last 18 months, the veteran cyclist has seen mounting interest in two-wheeled transportation.
Myrtle Beach leaders tasked a committee with finding ways to make local roads safer for cyclists. Horry County officials approved a plan for bike paths. And Vitt helped launch myrtlebeachcycling.com last year to help unite area riders.
“It’s very encouraging,” he said.
The latest evidence of local cycling support is a proposal to connect the Horry County Bike and Run Park with the East Coast Greenway.
Horry County officials expect to use a grant worth nearly $61,000 to build a trailhead for the greenway off of Grissom Parkway and extend the federal path to the park in Carolina Forest.
“That’s the link that we need,” said Bo Ives, president of the Carolina Forest Civic Association. “It connects the local plan with the greenway, which is a federal trail. Once you link your local trail with a federal trail, you qualify for federal funds for your local trail.”
County spokeswoman Lisa Bourcier said via email that the grant is being awarded through a program run by the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism. That agency sent a recommendation for the project to the Federal Highway Administration, which county officials expect will give final approval any day now.
“This project will serve as a catalyst for the extension of the East Coast Greenway from the City of Myrtle Beach to Carolina Forest,” Bourcier said. “It will also be the first official East Coast Greenway trailhead in Horry County.”
The project is part of the bike and pedestrian plan that county officials recently approved, Bourcier said.
The trailhead will consist of a small parking area at the Bike and Run Park, a picnic shelter, a bike repair stand and a kiosk with a map of the park and the greenway.
The Bike and Run Park, which local riders call The Hulk, sits at the intersection of Grissom Parkway and S.C. 31. The 25-acre park is accessible from a frontage road off of River Oaks Drive.
A local group of off-road cyclists known as the Waccamaw Trail Blazers encouraged the county to open the site’s rugged pathways in the summer of 2012.
Marshall Brown, the Trail Blazers’ president, said what’s happening with cycling in Horry County reflects a national trend.
From 2000 to 2010, the number of bicycle commuters increased by 40 percent, according to a report released in 2012. In some states, that increase was as high as 77 percent.
“For the whole nation, a lot of different counties jumped on board,” Brown said. “It’s good.”
Locally, he said many biking enthusiasts have joined forces in recent years to promote cycling. Their efforts are paying off.
“There are just more people doing it,” he said. “All of us kind of thought that we needed to work together instead of everybody working individually.”
For Ives, the civic association president, the local efforts to create bike paths aren’t about embracing some hobby of the healthy.
With all the traffic on area roads, he said, additional bike paths and trails will help keep cyclists off of busy highways.
“It would be a safety measure,” he said, “not just an amenity for recreation.”
Charles D. Perry • 488-7258