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Bike the Neck: Maintenance becomes a priority as path adds miles
By Charles Swenson
Bike the Neck is 11 miles away from completing its goal: a path that runs the length of Waccamaw Neck. But 20 years after it first broke ground on the project, the nonprofit is now turning its attention to maintenance of the existing paths.
“At the state park, all you hear is complaints from people using them. It’s like a mountain trail,” said Jim Mallow, a member of the Bike the Neck committee and the former head of the state park system in Maryland. The path through Huntington Beach State Park is the most scenic stretch of the 13-mile route, but tree roots have lifted the pavement. “The reality is, if you don’t maintain it, you won’t have it,” said Debbie Heller, Mallow’s wife and a committee member.
Bike the Neck is working with Georgetown County, which holds the easements to the path, to improve maintenance. A cleanup planned for next month along Waverly Road will launch an effort to recruit adjacent property owners, businesses and civic groups to adopt sections of the path. The newest portion of the path runs along Kings River Road and heads east on Waverly to Waccamaw Elementary School. From the school to Highway 17 there is a sidewalk that was built by the state Department of Transportation in the 1980s that has seen an increase in bike traffic this summer.
The sidewalk is overgrown, said Beth Goodale, the director of the Georgetown County Department of Parks and Recreation. The cleanup should make it more usable. “Linda and I have been having a dialog for a couple of years about these kinds of things,” she said.
Linda Ketron is founder and chairwoman of Bike the Neck. The cleanup “is the kickoff event for subsequent maintenance of the path,” she said. Although the sidewalk is a DOT facility, “if the highway department did it, they would just whack it,” she said. “We will be much more careful.”
Some businesses along the path, such as the Hanser House restaurant and Litchfield Beach and Golf Resort, already do maintenance. Billy Miles, who lives in Litchfield Country Club, started taking his blower and weed trimmer to the path along Kings River Road soon after the paving went down last year. “I’ll go out for an hour. It depends. I go every couple of weeks,” he said. “Most people wave or say thank you. Some think I work for DOT.”
Miles isn’t sure an army of retirees with yard equipment can maintain the route. But someone needs to. “If they don’t take care of it, grass will grow over it,” he said. That’s already happening in some places on the newest portion.
In addition to grass growing over the path and tree roots growing under, maintenance also has to deal with sand and gravel. Those are the biggest concerns in Murrells Inlet, where there is a bike lane on either side of Business 17. “There’s nothing wrong with that path except the sand and gravel,” said Leon Rice, a Bike the Neck member.
Parks and Recreation has a sweeper and it uses an accommodations tax grant to fund path maintenance. “People want it swept on a daily basis,” Goodale said. That isn’t possible. “Even Hilton Head doesn’t do that.”
Bike the Neck has offered to provide volunteers to run the county’s sweeper, but that raised liability issues.
The Murrells Inlet 2020 revitalization group has looked at alternatives, such as a bike path separated from the road. There isn’t enough right of way for that. So the group is also looking at maintenance of the bike lanes. “They are committed to improving the quality of riding in the inlet,” Ketron said.
After the opening of the Kings River-Waverly route, Bike the Neck has a couple of years before highway funds and grant money become available for additional construction. It is now looking at raising funds for maintenance. The difficulty is, “maintenance ain’t sexy,” Ketron said.
But Heller said she believes people who support the Bike the Neck project realize the need for maintenance. Rather than use volunteers to maintain it, she suggested raising money to hire professionals the way the Litchfield Beautification Foundation does with the landscaping on Highway 17.
Richard Heusel, a Bike the Neck member, suggests the group lobby for accommodations tax. The money comes from a 2 percent state tax on short-term rentals that is returned to the county for tourism marketing and for projects that are tourism-related. Competition for those funds is usually stiff, said Paul Battaglino, the county’s capital projects coordinator. “It’s going to be a matter of balancing,” he said. “Before starting new work, we need to have the means to maintain what we have.”