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A path runs through it

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Wayne and Jane Brumbaugh of Huntersville, N.C., took their first ride on the new bike path along Kings River Road this week and loved it. They stopped to inspect the graveyard at All Saints Church.

More serious bikers wouldn’t think of stopping. Linda Ketron, chairwoman of Bike the Neck, a group dedicated to building a trail that runs the length of Waccamaw Neck, and Paul Battaglino, Georgetown County’s capital projects coordinator, ran into some of those while inspecting the new trail a few weeks ago. A Canadian couple had spent two months at Litchfield by the Sea, riding up to 24 miles a day. Ketron called them serious bikers with packs and all the gear. They wanted to know what was next and were thrilled at the prospect of an extension along Kings River Road to Highway 17 and south to Hobcaw Barony.

“That would be a great stretch,” Ketron said. “It won’t be quite as scenic as coming through Huntington Beach State Park. There is a buffer of trees along the highway. People have found if you are just protected from traffic by a little vegetation it makes all the difference in the world in the ride. At Huntington Beach State Park they feel like they are in a little private woods of their own.”

Extending the bike path along the entire length of Kings River Road would make residents of Hagley Estates, Heritage and True Blue plantations happy, Ketron said, but it’s a long way from reality. “It would cost a considerable amount of money because of the way the roadbed was made and the drainage ditch at Heritage,” Ketron said. Bike path construction there would require easements from property owners.

Not everyone is as generous as Barry McCall, who granted an easement across his property at Waverly and Kings River roads so the Bike the Neck path could connect with a segment running to Waccamaw Elementary School that was built with Safe Ride to Schools money. Without that connection at “McCall’s Corner” riders would have had to go into the busy intersection.

Bicycle safety has become a primary concern for Ketron and supporters since a child riding on Kings River Road with his parents was struck and killed by a delivery truck nearly seven years ago. The couple had been married at Pawleys Island but never returned and didn’t want the new segment of the bike path named for their son. “I can’t imagine how anybody survives those kinds of things,” Ketron said. “They didn’t want anything done.”

The real tragedy was that Bike the Neck had the plans and money to build the path along Kings River Road before the fatal accident. The state changed its construction rules and began requiring all jurisdictions to have an engineer on staff to supervise any road project, including sidewalks and bike paths. “We had plans in place that the Department of Agriculture had done,” Ketron said. “We threw them away and started over. That’s the way that government does.”

She has learned the ins and outs of transportation funding since then, even though Bike the Neck had to return $100,000 for expanding the bike path in North Litchfield because property owners wouldn’t grant easements in time. Bike the Neck doesn’t apply for funds any more without all the easements signed. North Litchfield remains an important piece of the bike path puzzle because riders are forced on to the curvy streets when they get to Lakeshore and Trace drives.

“There’s just a lot of worry about that whole stretch,” Ketron said. “Just look at how the path has made travel on Kings River Road safer.”

Another important piece will provide a connection to Parkersville Park and the Waccamaw Recreation Center from a proposed path along Petigru Drive. Ketron says she expects a bike path to be part of the scheduled Petigru paving project that runs from Martin Luther King Road past Stables Park to Litchfield Country Club. She would prefer a separate bike path to a lane because of the experience at Murrells Inlet. “Lanes work OK if it’s not a heavy-duty traffic area,” she said. “Everybody is disappointed now in the Murrells Inlet segment because those lanes are part of the road.”

There’s talk of rebuilding a single 4-mile bike path on the western side of Highway 17 Business, but it would cost more than $6 million, Ketron said. The 3-mile Kings River Road segment was $1.5 million and the easements were a breeze because most of it runs along River Club, The Tradition and All Saints Church. She said there are thoughts of a bike path along Old Murrells Inlet Road past the new recreation center, but it’s narrow with ditches and trees on each side.

There are a lot of options about what’s next, Ketron said. She’s hoping the East Coast Greenway will accept the path along Kings River Road when it meets this weekend and the new segment can combine a ribbon-cutting ceremony with National Trails day in June.

Feedback, Ketron said, has been terrific. “People are so pleased with it,” she said. “Even the skeptics see it as an asset. We knew that would be the case. Nobody likes change, but if it’s the right kind of change they love it.”

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