Myrtle Beach city leaders hope abandoned railroad lines and a proposed partnership with Horry County will put the area on track toward economic investment, increased tourism and health benefits.
The idea is to convert unused railway lines and create a 2.5-mile public trail that stretches north from downtown Myrtle Beach, passing Robert M. Grissom Parkway and heading toward the Intracoastal Waterway.
“It really is too great of an opportunity not to take advantage of,” Brenda Bethune told the county council’s transportation and economic development committee on Thursday, adding the proposed project would be “transformative for our entire area.”
Bethune said trails spark economic development and diversity — attracting investors, developers and new businesses along them.
“And they also bring economic revitalization to an area,” she said.
The rail-trail concept was first realized with the opening of Wisconsin’s Elroy-Sparta State Trail in the 1960s.
Now, Bethune said, there are over 23,000 miles of such paths across the country that welcome tens of millions of visitors to “walk, bike, run and escape.”
She and Brian Schmitt of the city’s downtown development office highlighted other trails in the country, including Greenville’s Swamp Rabbit Trail.
“Not only is a rail to trail project an investment in human infrastructure, but the dividends that are paid are significant,” Bethune said.
Along with promoting and enhancing public health and wellness, she said, they’re also wheelchair accessible. There’s a growing movement across the country in which folks want to live and work near a trail corridor.
“This is because more and more people of all ages are moving away from using their car so often,” Bethune said. “And having a trail corridor in a community really enhances its livability.”
They also attract ecotourism, which she said would be an “incredible benefit to this area.”
Officials said trails also offer the chance to preserve natural landscapes.
Along the trail’s proposed path are pockets of unincorporated Horry County.
The project is estimated to cost $1.3-1.9 million, and Bethune said there are grants and sponsorship opportunities available for such projects. The county would not have to put any money toward the trail, she said.
Myrtle Beach Deputy City Manager Fox Simons said the city would ask the county’s permission to sell steel from the unused rail lines that the county owns along the proposed pathway. The proceeds would then go toward the project.
Going forward, local officials want to handle any concerns about easements since the rail lines would be converted for another use.
Dr. Bob Brookover of Clemson University’s Department of Parks Recreation and Tourism Management projects a potential positive impact of more than $1.36 million per $1 million invested.
“We really are looking at something that is not a pie in the sky project,” Bethune said, “something that is very achievable.”
The head of the trail would be near the Myrtle Beach Train Depot off of 9th Avenue North, continuing down the avenue to the boardwalk.
The path is a key element of the city’s plans as it develops its Arts and Innovation District, which the trail would cut through.
With so many puzzle pieces, moving parts and no soothsayers in sight, Myrtle Beach leaders i…
Bethune said the path could entice travelers to visit local businesses and nature along the way.
“I can envision a lot of people taking advantage of it,” Horry County Councilman Cam Crawford said.
City and county officials plan to discuss the proposal further.
“I look forward to the day when we open this trail and all of us join and take that first walk along it,” Bethune said.