When bicycling the Swamp Rabbit Trail through downtown Greenville, watch for the waterfalls. Waterfalls?
Wheel into Falls Park on the Reedy and a distant rushing sound grows louder. A hundred yards away the Reedy River plunges over huge, reddish boulders, forming river-wide falls. Overlooking the falls are upscale restaurants, condos and an amphitheater.
The glistening cataracts lend a dramatic, whitewater counterpoint to the high-rise buildings. On a recent balmy Sunday, throngs of people crowded the park and the Swamp Rabbit Trail, the park’s main artery.
Cyclist John Detwiler Jr., 36, paused on the park’s Liberty Bridge to survey the scenery. He rides the trail three to four times a week. “It complements Greenville itself,” Detwiler said. “You see families, children, older people, out enjoying what God has given us.”
The Swamp Rabbit runs nearly 20 miles from Greenville north through Furman University to Travelers Rest.
Detwiler likes the straightaway around Furman. He’s a long-distance rider with TeamFS, for Finish Strong, a Christian cycling organization that supports charitable causes. “The Furman section is beautiful. Trees line the corridor. Longer stretches, so you can keep going.”
The rails-to-trail Swamp Rabbit was born in 1999. That’s when Greenville County bought 13 miles of abandoned railroad track for the trail for $1.3 million, according to a history on the county’s Park, Recreation & Tourism website. The trail got its quirky name from a defunct local train called the Swamp Rabbit.
Opening in 2009, the trail now draws a half-million bicyclists, joggers and strollers a year.
Sights and stops
To ride the Swamp Rabbit, out-of-town cyclists gravitate to Travelers Rest, population 4,800. They park for free in Gateway Park, a block from the trail. An outdoors store, Sunrift Adventures, rents and repairs bikes seven days a week.
Here’s a brief description of sights and stops from north to south:
After Travelers Rest, rural countryside marks the trail. At 2.2 miles, it enters the Furman campus. Here, a pocket park offers soft-drink vending machines, water fountain, parking lot and a railway passenger car on display.
The rural setting continues until Sulphur Springs Road, 5.2 miles from Travelers Rest. Across the road is the Swamp Rabbit Station rest and repair stop. Cyclists can fix their bikes on an M-shaped stand. Tools tethered to cables hang from the yellow-frame rack, which includes a manual air pump.
Ready for lunch? Two miles farther is the Swamp Rabbit Cafe & Grocery, which sells sandwiches, salads and bakery products for outside dining. (The name has gained cachet: Travelers Rest has the Swamp Rabbit Brewery & Tap Room and Greenville has the Swamp Rabbit Inn.)
From here it’s about 2.5 miles to Falls Park on the Reedy. After passing the waterfalls, the trail wends through Cleveland Park, by the Greenville Zoo, past the YMCA of Greenville, before ending at Greenville Technical College.
The Travelers Rest-Greenville section extends 15.7 miles; a disconnected 3.9-mile section runs from Interstate 85 to Conestee Parks south of the city.
It’s a cyclist-friendly trail. Green signs with a bunny icon note upcoming destinations. Stenciled into the asphalt every tenth of a mile are cumulative miles so users know where they are in case of emergency.
A Furman University study calculated the Swamp Rabbit drew 500,000 users in 2013. A fourth were from out of town, spending an estimated $6.7 million.
The Swamp Rabbit continues to grow. Ty Houck, county director of greenways, said work could start this year on a segment that would tie into the trail near the Greenville Zoo. The 4.2-mile segment would run southeast to the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research campus.
Houck said the trail’s economic impact and rising popularity has led to the goal of creating a trail network that connects to North Carolina and to Laurens County to the south, though there’s no timetable.
Steve and Malinda McAleer Pennington of Greenville began riding the Swamp Rabbit when it was gravel. “We ride it every chance we get,” he said, on their 1990s-vintage tandem bike. “It’s a fine way to spend more time together. We put in at the YMCA, go to Travelers Rest. Stop and have coffee.”
If you go
For information on the trail and printable maps, see www.greenvillerec.com/swamprabbit.