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Bike the Neck: New section of path finally on a roll

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

After years of fundraising, grant writing and waiting, a bike path along Kings River and Waverly roads is on the way.

Survey work started last week in preparation for construction of the project, part of Bike the Neck, an effort to create a bike trail that runs throughout Waccamaw Neck from the Georgetown bridge to the Horry County line.

This most recent phase will take place in three parts, said Paul Battaglino, Georgetown County’s capital projects coordinator.

The first phase will be construction of a path from Willbrook Boulevard to the north side of the parking lot at All Saints Church. A path from the south end of the parking lot to the junction of Kings River and Waverly will be second, and finally will be construction of a path that extends from Waccamaw Elementary School to Martin Luther King Road.

“The hope is we will be able to link all three and they will connect Willbrook to the elementary school,” Battaglino said.

He hasn’t been told when construction will begin, but now that surveying has started, things should move along quickly, he said. Property owners along the path sites still have to be notified, which Battaglino estimates will take about a month, and then the preliminary design phase will begin.

Construction of the paths is long overdue, said Linda Ketron, chairwoman of Bike the Neck. She’s “thrilled” to see the project finally moving forward after being stalled for more than two years due to new federal rules and regulations on road projects.

“It’s been a long time coming, and we deserve to have this stretch of path completed,” she said. “Our cyclists, our motorists and our pedestrians deserve it, and so does the memory of the young man to lost his life on that road.”

Benjamin Thomas, a 13-year-old from Florida, was killed by a truck while bike riding with his family on Kings River Road in July 2005. He was struck head-on by a Coca-Cola truck trying to pass a golf maintenance tractor on the road. His family was vacationing on Pawleys Island.

When Thomas was killed, “the path was already a year behind schedule,” Ketron said. She believes the tragedy could have been avoided if the path had been there, she added.

The new paths are much needed, because bike traffic in the area is increasing. Ketron said she has noted a huge increase in the number of people utilizing the existing trails, and they’re branching out to areas that don’t have bike paths yet.

“They head down Kings River Road and don’t realize there’s no escape route if something is coming toward them,” she said. There is only a very small clearance on either side of the road, and many drivers don’t heed speed limits there.

The road “looks so benign, like a country road nobody will be on, then suddenly there’s a lot of traffic,” Ketron said. “This will be a safety precaution, in addition to adding four miles of great riding to the existing trail.”

The trail segments on Kings River Road are county projects and will be funded by a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant. The path that will run in front of Waccamaw Elementary falls under Georgetown County School District and is funded by a Safe Routes to School grant.

In addition to the grants, Bike the Neck had fundraisers for the project. An ice cream social and square dance this summer raised about $1,500.

In all, more than $600,000 is on hand for construction. It hasn’t been determined yet exactly what the cost of the paths will be.

Trailblazers

While Bike the Neck waits on new bike paths to be completed, it is looking for help to keep the existing trail safe and clean.

The group formed a volunteer group, Trailblazers, earlier this year to help out with maintaining the trail, removing debris and reporting any problems that could be a hazard for cyclists.

Though the county is responsible for maintenance, it doesn’t have staff or funding to perform maintenance as often as users of the trail say is needed, especially during the summer.

About 10 volunteers turned out for the first Trailblazers cleanup in June, despite triple-digit temperatures. The next cleanup is planned near Labor Day. To sign up, call Ketron, 235-9600 or 237-4486.

To learn more about Bike the Neck, visit biketheneck.com.

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