The Swamp Rabbit never could live up to its destiny as a railroad to connect Greenville to major out-of-state cities for trade purposes. But what it lacked as a train track, it more than made up for as a rails-to-trail pathway that now attracts tens of thousands of users every year.
[Note: This is the second part in a series of blog posts on the Swamp Rabbit. Look back at our post “Counting on the Swamp Rabbit: Greenville’s Favorite Track, by the Numbers (Pt. 1)” to learn the first half of the story.]
In 1997, the Greenville and Northern Railway came under new ownership once again: RailTex purchased the line that Greenville locals had fondly referred to as the “Swamp Rabbit” for decades. Not long after, the new owner filed and began preparing for abandonment of the line. Operations on the line had largely ceased during the several years prior to that sell.
Urged by concerned local citizens who didn’t want to see the railroad abandoned or displaced after RailTex started to prepare for abandonment proceedings, the Greenville County Economic Development Corporation eventually purchased the railroad property from the company for $1,300,000.
Greenville Health System later joined the ranks with the development corporation on this project, pledging to sponsor the trail for a full 10 years. It’s for this reason that trail developers settled on the name GHS Swamp Rabbit Trail.
The process of converting the track to trail was met with several setbacks. But in May 2009, the Swamp Rabbit finally began its most successful run, as a brand new rails-to-trails pathway.
The now annual Swamp Rabbit 5k continues to celebrate the opening of the trail on the first weekend in May. In the past few years, participation has surpassed 5,000 individual runners and walkers. During the race, the population of the city of Travelers Rest more than doubles.
Though the Swamp Rabbit doesn’t connect Greenville to out-of-state major cities as Greenvillians had once hoped, it does connect Greenville’s own communities to one another. The master plan for the greenway system will incorporate these six local cities: Greenville, Travelers Rest, Greer, Mauldin, Fountain Inn, and Simpsonville.
“Unknowingly, the Swamp Rabbit married Greenville County’s communities more than a century ago, and it is here to stay via a recreational trail,” wrote Sandra Yúdice in a county report about the trail.
So far, the GHS Swamp Rabbit Trail stretches a total of 20 miles, beginning north of Travelers Rest and culminating south of downtown Greenville.
The trail’s certainly served as inspiration for many a business along its way, storefronts that perhaps wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the economic boom that the trail has created since its inception — especially for Travelers Rest.
At least five businesses have borrowed the Swamp Rabbit name plain and simple: Swamp Rabbit Brewery & Taproom, Swamp Rabbit Café & Grocery, Swamp Rabbit Storage, Swamp Rabbit Inn, and Swamp Rabbit CrossFit. Another handful of businesses play off their location near the trail, albeit a bit more indirectly: Bike the Rabbit, Off the Beaten Path, and The Trail Potter, for example.
The Swamp Rabbit Trail attracted more than half a million people — who used the trail for cycling, walking, skating, and running — from July 2012 to June 2013, according to the most recent impact study.
And that number, we believe, will continue to rise. Like those who went before us many years ago, we’re still counting on the Swamp Rabbit.
Group of cyclists photo – GHS Swamp Rabbit Trail Trail bridge photo – Greenville Rec Race photo – GHS Swamp Rabbit 5k Informational source – “The Swamp Rabbit Trail: A Tale of More Than 125 Years Spanning Over Three Centuries” by Sandra E. Yúdice / Greenville County