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Bike the Neck: A start for a project with no end in sight

By Nikki Best
Coastal Observer

It might be the golden spike.

Bike the Neck will break ground this month on the connector to close a gap in its 14.5-mile bikeway. If it can avoid the road blocks.

Bike the Neck tried to connect the path before. Two years ago the group had a $100,000 grant from S.C. Parks, Recreation and Tourism to help finish the stretch, but it couldn’t get the easements.

“We ran into problems and time ran out on the grant,” Linda Ketron, who chairs the group, said. “And we had to turn $100,000 back to the state.”

But the project has to at least break ground this month or risk losing a state wetlands permit and incurring further delays.

“We are poised now,” Ketron said. “I think we have almost all of the easements in hand.”

The stretch of path in question would run under Santee Cooper’s power lines between Boyle Road and Trace Drive in North Litchfield. It will make a continuous path from Waverly Road to Murrells Inlet and take bike through traffic off the streets in North Litchfield.

“We’ve been spared any accidents or deaths, but there have been a lot of near misses,” Ketron said. “The community is tired of accommodating the increase in traffic.”

Georgetown County Council Member John Thomas worked on the connector when he was president of Litchfield Beaches Property Owners Association. “It’s on life support, but it’s not dead yet,” he said.

While Santee Cooper has easements for its power lines, some property owners along the route have asked the county to pay for a bike path easement. That’s something the county won’t do.

“Negotiations for the easements are still ongoing,” Thomas said. “In the meantime we will try to do some construction to start it.”

Santee Cooper granted an encroachment permit for the path, but denied Bike the Neck’s request for the donation of fill for the North Litchfield Connector. A letter from Richard S. Kizer, vice president of public affairs for the state-owned utility, says, “We have several limitations including the availability of equipment and suitable fill material required for the work.”

Santee Cooper is a longtime partner for Bike the Neck. The denial is not a lack of support for the bikeway, Kizer, in his letter, offered future support for the group through “in-kind printing assistance, such as signage, banners, flyers or even brochures to promote the Bikeway.”

The first mile Bike the Neck, paved in 1997, cost $38,000 and took three years of planning. The latest proposed addition is the North Litchfield Connector. It is roughly 3,000 feet and will cost about $240,000.

“The cost of construction a couple of years ago would have been covered by the grant,” Thomas said. “Apparently in the meantime cost of construction has risen.”

The county has secured most of the easements needed from property owners, but there are permits to consider as well. There is an isolated wetland along the path.

A permit from state Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management, a division of the Department of Health and Environmental Control, was obtained to fill the isolated wetland that exists on the proposed stretch.

“It’s not a habitat,” Ketron said. “It doesn’t drain into any lake or water body.”

The permit from Coastal Resources will expire on March 18 if no work has begun.

If that happens, the county will have to reapply. The process would delay a future start by six to 12 months. “We said, ‘Well we’ll all go out with shovels,’” Ketron said.

But it doesn’t work that way.

“Some kind of construction must happen before the deadline,” Thomas said. That construction must be started by the county.

Elsewhere along the Bike the Neck route, volunteers are working with the county to maintain the existing portions of the path. The group organized a clean-up on Saturday.

“We started the adopt-a-path program a couple of years ago,” Ketron said.

Some sections of the bikeway require little management when it comes to maintenance. The housing developments along the way keep it clean. The portion of path along Highway 17 between the North and South Causeway is one of the most traveled and collects a lot trash.

Ketron dropped off orange road vests, gloves and trash bags to the volunteers at each section. Safety is a priority for the group.

Rita Smith and her husband Dean were two of the volunteers who worked the area between the causeways.

“We must look like we’re paying our debt to society,” Dean said.

Pieces of cars, silverware, diapers, traffic signs, and actual buckets of trash littered the sides of the pathway. The group picked up as much as they could and cleared the path of smaller debris in the two hours allotted to the cause.

“We live in such a beautiful place,” Rita said. “When I see it messed up, it pisses me off.”

There are more events on the horizon. Bike the Neck presses on, even if permits expire. Even with construction delays. Supporters of the bikeway are positive. They’ve been doing this a long time.

“We have our fingers crossed,” Ketron said. “And a lot of fundraising to do.”

After the North Litchfield connector is completed, the dream of the Waccamaw Neck Bikeway heads south. Starting at the South Causeway, the addition of an 8.5 mile extension would bring the pathway to a total of around 23 miles and would end at Hobcaw Barony.

But that’s in the future. Right now, the connector in North Litchfield is a priority.

A fundraiser for the North Litchfield Connector will be held March 25, 2 to 5 p.m., at the Litchfield Exchange for a ‘Welcome Spring Reception.’ It will feature Art Works’ artists, local authors, refreshments and live jazz music. The event is free and open to the public. Any donations to support Bike the Neck are welcomed and appreciated.

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