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Bike the Neck: Group hopes maintenance plan will aid construction funding

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

The leather utility belt was new. So was the lime green safety vest. They won’t stay that way for long as the Bike the Neck project starts devoting more of its time to maintaining its 15 miles of bikeways.

“It’ll break in. It’s still a little stiff,” said Linda Ketron, a founder and chairwoman of Bike the Neck, hitching up the belt. The vest was a gift from East Coast Greenway, which includes the Bike the Neck route.

A cleanup along Waverly Road on Saturday morning was the first of what the organizers hope will be quarterly events, augmenting scheduled maintenance by Georgetown County and encouraging other community groups to help with upkeep. It drew 17 people, including members of the Pawleys Island Child Development Center, county staff and Bike the Neck members. Four high school students at the Teach My People after school program picked up 14 bags of litter the day before.

The child center in Parkersville will be served by bike lanes proposed for the community as a way to connect Stables Park with the bike path.

Stuart Saunders was visiting his father David at Litchfield Plantation on his way from Martha’s Vineyard to the Florida Keys. He spent the summer working on an organic farm and his hoeing skills came in handy as he cleared the grass from the sidewalk in front of Waccamaw Elementary School. The sidewalk meets a new section of the Bike the Neck route in front of the school.

“I feel bad encouraging people to ride their bikes on the sidewalk,” Saunders said.

But unless marked otherwise the sidewalk is open to bike traffic, Ketron said. It’s seen an increase in traffic with the opening of the bike path, even though the concrete has buckled in some places and is crushed by cross traffic in others.

The volunteers cut back grass that had overgrown the sidewalk. John Gregory, who chairs the development center board, used an edger. Richard and Gwen Heusel, members of the Bike the Neck committee, trimmed vines and limbs that overhung the sidewalk.

“I was impressed by the aggressive pruning,” Ketron said. At the end of the morning, four pickup-truck loads of grass and brush were hauled away.

The sidewalk needs more work, but Ketron hopes regular maintenance will eventually tip the balance, both on Waverly Road and other places along the route. Another cleanup is planned for Dec. 5 along the portion of the path that runs through Huntington Beach State Park. It’s covered by fallen leaves and pine straw. The county Department of Parks and Recreation is due to sweep it in advance of the cleanup and volunteers will focus on edging and overhead trimming.

The next round of funding for major construction on the Bike the Neck project won’t come up until 2020. Ketron hopes that the maintenance program will be well-established by then and make it easier to attract private funds for projects such as the Stables Park connector.

Bike the Neck and Murrells Inlet 2020 are also working on a project to extend the bike lanes along Business 17 west to the Waccamaw River at Wachesaw Landing. The route would tie in with Tidelands Health’s medical facilities, including Waccamaw Community Hospital. That would likely be combinations of bike lanes and a path separated from the road, Ketron said.

The Business 17 bike lanes are also the focus of improvement plans. Potholes need filling, sand and gravel needs to be swept and lane markings need to be reinstalled. Parks and Recreation plans to ask County Council for $6,000 in accommodations tax funds to hire two part-time employees for bike path maintenance next year. The next round of tax grants comes up in the spring. Until then, Ketron said Bike the Neck will fund those employees with $3,000 it has on hand.

“The county has the equipment, they just don’t have anyone to run it,” Ketron said.

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