THIS WEEK'S TOP STORIES
Bike the Neck: North Litchfield bypass will take detour
By Charles Swenson
The Bike the Neck path marked its 20th anniversary last month with a major expansion of the route under construction along Kings River Road. Now the project has reached another milestone: it will return unused grant money for the first time.
Georgetown County received the $100,000 grant from the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism in 2012 to extend the path along the Santee Cooper power lines in North Litchfield. But property owners asked the county to pay for an easement – another first – so the project will follow a different route. The deadline to use the grant is mid-May.
“This is the first time we’ve had to turn any money back. It’s hard to do,” said Linda Ketron, who chairs the Bike the Neck committee. “We’ll reapply for it as soon as we have a plan.”
The Bike the Neck route follows Lakeshore Drive in North Litchfield between Boyle Drive and Trace Drive. Residents are concerned that growing numbers of cyclists and cars will create a hazard. “Somebody’s going to get hurt on Lakeshore,” said Richard Cobbs, a board member of the area property owners association.
John Thomas, the association president, said one of the property owners along the Santee Cooper easement wanted $1,500 to add the bike path to the easement. “It turned out that when one wanted compensation, everybody who heard about it wanted it too,” Ketron said. “I don’t blame anybody. I understand.”
The county will now design a route in the state right-of-way along Highway 17. “It would not be as protected as Huntington, but it would be protected, at least 5 feet off the highway,” Ketron said. The 10-foot-wide path runs through the trees that border Huntington Beach State Park north of Trace Drive.
In some places along the highway the project may seek easements over private property to avoid cutting large trees, she said.
Property owners in other sections of the 11-mile Bike the Neck system have granted easements at no cost. “This is the first time anybody’s asked for compensation,” Ketron said. “It’s probably a condition of times changing.”
She recalled a former owner of the property that is now the Hanser House restaurant gave an easement without question. Future owners, he told Ketron, “will just develop around the bike path.”
Even running along the highway, area residents said they will be pleased if the North Litchfield connector looks like the path being built along Kings River Road. Ketron agreed it’s become a model project. It connects Willbrook Boulevard with Waverly Road. Another leg will run down Waverly Road to Waccamaw Elementary School.
The project is scheduled for completion in the fall. A bridge must be constructed over wetlands south of All Saints Church. But in the Willbrook area, the path should be paved as soon as the weather turns reliably warm, Ketron said.
“People are already using it,” she said. If it isn’t paved, it will have to be compacted again. “I would love for that to be done by the time school is out.”