County improves Alston Trailhead

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FAIRFIELD COUNTY – The planning process is moving forward for park improvements around the Alston Trailhead of the Palmetto Trail that runs through western Fairfield County, and now there’s a visual: a recently created rendition lays out what the project will look like once it’s complete (see pages 4 and 5).

The finished project holds the promise of tourist revenue not only for western Fairfield, but for the entire county, County Administrator Jason Taylor said.

In the plan, the trail connects to a hard-surface loop that links all of the proposed Trailhead amenities: a kayak launch, fishing pier, picnic areas, both primitive and developed campsites, picnic shelters with fireplaces, an amphitheater that is ADA-viewing compliant and more. There’s also an expanded gravel parking area planned for the trailhead.

A grant from outdoor outfitter REI will provide two new primitive campsites that should take shape in the next couple of weeks. A total of six campsites are planned for the grounds.

Roe said that in addition to the information kiosk that was recently completed, a bicycle repair station – a bicycle stand with a variety of tools and an air pump – will be installed within the next two weeks or so, as will as a counter that will track the number of people who use the trail, all thanks to a grant from Fairfield Forward.

Taylor added, “Having the Alston Trailhead is a tremendous asset for Fairfield County.  We are delighted to have the opportunity to partner with Palmetto Conservation Foundation and others, like REI and Fairfield Forward, to make this great asset to the community even better for generations to come.”

Fairfield County has dedicated the funding to design the improvements and has secured local granite to construct several structures including a new kayak launch that is ADA compliant. 

While the project is a partnership between Fairfield County and The Palmetto Conservation Foundation, the Foundation manages the trail. Additional partners are being sought to help with funding and construction.

“We’re just really excited to have this opportunity to work with the county to provide hikers, bikers, fishermen and kayakers from all over the state with a multi-recreational trailhead,” said Mary Roe, executive director of the Palmetto Trail. “The Alston Trailhead is the gateway to one of the Palmetto Trail’s most popular passages, the Peak to Prosperity Passage.”

Trail and county officials say some pieces of the two-year project, like the REI-funded campsites, can be completed soon. Other parts will take longer because of the need to obtain permits and to find partners to help fund and/or build the amenities.

If the architecture of the planned picnic shelters looks familiar, that’s not an accident. The choice is intentional; it comes from a book that was used by the 1930s infrastructure-building and jobs program that built much of the U.S. park infrastructure, Clauson said.

The design, making use of local wood for the shelter and granite for the fireplaces, is intended to be sturdy and timeless while showcasing the granite that’s played an important role in Fairfield County’s history.

Clauson said the granite for the structures is being reclaimed from locations around the county, both from public property and through private donations.

Among the sources: a collection of massive stones that fell from a railroad car in the 1950s, which the county has had ever since; some old structures in the county; and a local church which has donated its old stone fenceposts.

While there will be no restrooms on the site, Clauson said — a preference of the foundation which also reflects the fact that the site lacks water, sewer, and power — portable toilets will likely be provided during special events in the amphitheater.

The Palmetto Trail, a statewide trail network, stretches from the mountains to the coast. The Peak to Prosperity segment (or passage) of the trail, which was created from a former railroad bed, is the part that runs through western Fairfield County. That 10.7-mile stretch of trail is known for its numerous trestles.

The scenic bridge that crosses the Broad River and connects Pomaria to the Alston Trailhead is a popular spot for wedding, graduation and other special occasion photographs.

The project, Clauson said, is aimed at improving the quality of life for western Fairfield County and all county residents while also drawing people into Fairfield County to experience the sights the county has to offer.

“There’s a lot of history on that site, and we’re assuming if people get a taste of it, they’ll be drawn to the town as well to see what else is in the county,” Clauson said. “Basically, we want this area to highlight the history of Fairfield County in a tangible way and be an attractive recreational asset for generations to come.”

Taking a break after walking across the Broad River on a picturesque train trestle at the Alston Trailhead project in western Fairfield County are, from left: Mary Roe and Furman Miller with the Palmetto Trail Conservation, Fairfield County Councilwoman Bertha Goins, Community Development Director for the County Chris Clauson, County Administrator Jason Taylor and County Council Chair Neil Robinson. | Photo: Barbara Ball