Alston trailhead improvements to promote western Fairfield

Palmetto Trail hikers stop at the Alston trailhead in Fairfield County to promote the trail and publicize improvements at Alston that were made possible by a grant from Fairfield Forward. Standing next to the new information kiosks purchased with some of the $5,000 grant are, from left: Chair of Palmetto Trails Dr. Tracey McPherson, expedition leader and attorney Tom Mullican, Fairfield County Community Development Director Chris Clauson and Fairfield County Administrator Jason Taylor.

FAIRFIELD COUNTY – A hike Tuesday on the part of the Palmetto Trail that runs through western Fairfield County and ends at the Alston trailhead, brought together several partners in an effort to enhance the trail and to encourage people to come out and enjoy the outdoors with their families.

The hiking event from Peak to Prosperity, totaling about 10.7 miles, included leaders from Fairfield county; the Palmetto Conservation Foundation, which manages the trail system; the Kids in Parks program, which is expanding into South Carolina; and hike leader Tom Mullikin, a local adventurer who’s hiking trails around the state this month (www.southcarolina7.com).

Not far from where the trail ended at Fairfield’s Alston trailhead, is an impressive bridge across the Broad River. The historic railroad trestle built in 1890 features scenic views and is a popular spot with photographers. The railroad has a long history in the area. An earlier bridge in the same location was burned during the Civil War.

“There are different small efforts being made to enhance the trail, and our partnership with Fairfield County in this is growing,” said Mary Roe, executive director of the Palmetto Trail. “I think we’re very aligned in how we would like to bring people out to the Alston trailhead in Fairfield.”

Chris Clauson, who is both Fairfield County’s community development director and chairman of local nonprofit Fairfield Forward, said the plan going forward is to make even more improvements for the benefit of county residents and to encourage them to use the trail for enjoyment and improved health.

A $5,000 grant from Fairfield Forward helped fund some of the current Alston Trailhead improvements, including new park benches, two new information kiosks that offer brochures about plants and animals native to the area and other things. Clauson said these improvements are part of a larger effort the county is working on for the area.

“We have a larger process we’re going through to master plan that entire tract, but we’re still in the early stages, and we’re kind of trying to find [additional] partners as well,” he says.

“We’re working with the Palmetto Conservation Foundation to do more there, to basically make the Alston Trailhead area a real destination, more so than it already is, for all sorts of people – not just from the county, but from outside of the county and, hopefully, even from the state.”

County officials see the area as a potential tourist attraction that could benefit the county, especially the western part.

Other projects being considered are the improvement of an existing rudimentary kayak launch to make it more accessible for families, as well as improvements to picnic areas and camping facilities.

Across the river in Newberry County, the trail on the former railroad bed passes the towns of Peak, Pomaria, and Prosperity; along the way, it has 14 wooden trestles over a creek meandering through the area, which was settled by German immigrants in the 1730s.

“It’s one of our most popular trail systems,” Roe said, noting that in addition to the draw of its scenic views, the former railroad bed is wide and open, and lends itself to social distancing.

It also lends itself to a variety of different hiking options, she said. The one-mile stretch that includes the bridge is a good option for a leisurely family walk, while those interested in a longer hike might walk 3.5 miles to Hope Station. An even longer option is the 6.5-mile hike to the Pomeria trailhead. The full trail distance, which is just shy of 11 miles, is more popular among bicyclists.

“A lot of people, what they might do is park a car at Alston and park a car at Pomeria Station so they could walk the 6.5 miles and then go to the other trailhead and get the other car,” she says. “We encourage people, if they want to do a longer hike, to stage cars.”

As a whole, the Palmetto Trail system includes around 370 miles, which stretch from the mountains in South Carolina’s upstate to the coast in Charleston County. The goal is to ultimately link them all together, with a total trail mileage of around 500.

Maps of all the trail segments, which are officially referred to as passages, can be found on the Palmetto Conservation Foundation website at www.palmettoconservation.org. Both viewable online maps and downloadable offline maps are available for free. Peak to Prosperity is the local one.

For families in particular, the TRACK Trail program has recently been implemented at the Alston trailhead in Fairfield, providing informational brochures for families about plants and animals along the trail. The program also has an online component, which has interactive features for kids and offers prizes through the mail.

“Kids can track their trail adventures through our website,” said Jason Urroz, director of Kids in Parks, which oversees TRACK Trails and is a program of the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation. “They can kind of collect their locations and their different prizes along the way, and hopefully that encourages them to want to go on more and more adventures.”

Urroz says the program, which currently has about 120 trail locations in North Carolina and 207 in a dozen states, will soon be adding its program to nine more trails in South Carolina’s midlands and upstate regions.

More information on TRACK trails can be found at www.kidsinparks.com. Urros said the program has been around for more than a decade – and it’s all about helping kids and families get past the “unknown” factor in outdoor adventures and have a great time.

Roe said the trail is a worthwhile destination for anyone in the local area.

“It’s steeped in history. You can walk across an amazing bridge,” she said. “You can have a simple one-mile hike in and one-mile hike out, get some great exercise and see some amazing turtles when you’re looking down from the bridge. There are some amazing sunsets and sunrises – it’s just a pretty special place.”