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Sweet Gum Trail is open to public

Posted: November 9, 2017 4:04 p.m.
Updated: November 10, 2017 1:00 a.m.
Martin L. Cahn/C-I

Camden Mayor Alfred Mae Drakford (center) cuts the ribbon to officially open the Sweet Gum Trail in the city’s Woodward Park. Celebrating with Drakeford are (from left) Eat Smart Move More Kershaw County’s Pam Spivey, Camden City Councilwoman Joanna Craig, Camden City Manager Mel Pearson, city council members Deborah Davis and Stephen Smoak, State Rep. Laurie Slade Funderburk, City Councilman Jeffrey Graham, Kershaw County Recreation Parks and Recreation Director Joe Eason and City Planner Shawn Putnam.

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Tall Longleaf pines stood silent guard as the first official hikers took to the Sweet Gum Trail in Camden on Tuesday afternoon. About 50 people participated in a ribbon cutting ceremony for the official opening of the 2/3-mile trail that now connects Scott and Woodward parks.

Tuesday’s ceremony took place at the Woodward Park trail head. Visitors entering the park from Chestnut Ferry Road just off West DeKalb Street can make a right turn after passing the park’s tennis courts and find the trail head next to a baseball field at the end of the road.

The 10-foot wide, paved trail winds through woods behind Woodward’s baseball fields, running just a few feet away from the railroad that cuts through the city near West DeKalb Street’s Donald Holland Bridge over the tracks. The Amtrak station can be seen through the trees at one point. The trail continues around behind the park before coming to a point where it heads straight toward Scott Park off Battleship Road.

That trail head meets Scott Park’s unpaved walking/running track. Hikers, runners and bikers wanting to use the Sweet Gum Trail from Scott Park will need to make their way nearly half-way around the track to meet the trail.

City Manager Mel Pearson welcomed guests to the short ceremony saying he knew the track was wide enough to accommodate both walkers and bikers at the same time.

“I know that because a young lady on a bicycle lapped us five times the other day while we got from one end to the other and I think there were a couple of walkers who lapped us also,” Pearson said.

Pearson said the Sweet Gum Trail marks the completion of Camden and Kershaw County’s first steps in creating a truly county-wide trail system connecting other trails and parks across the county.

“This is the first of that county wide plan. Now, I don’t want you to underestimate Kendall Park; it’s a very nice, half-mile trail over there. It’s a rubberized surface, but this trail has a lot of potential to be connected to other trails in the parks and we’re excited about the beginning here,” he said.

Pam Spivey, of Eat Smart Move More Kershaw County (ESMMKC), ebulliently declared Tuesday’s ribbon cutting a “dream in the making for years.”

“(We) used $65,000 in grant funding to hire all the planning to put together a county-wide pedestrian greenways plan,” Spivey said. “This plan was adopted by our city government and county government and because of that, decisions around existing upgrades and new construction … have allowances for our pedestrians, our parks, our streets. All these things are worked out before these projects begin.”

Spivey said the collaboration between ESMMKC, the city and county is why there is now an “amazing” opportunity.

She said the trail is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“It will be used by people of all ages and abilities: walkers and runners and nature lovers -- someone’s got binoculars, I saw that -- parents and grandparents that want to push your little ones in a stroller (and) children, learning to ride a bike or riding their bikes. Those in wheelchairs will have the opportunity to enjoy this beautiful and safe environment. This is in interest to hours of enjoyment and improved health for all members of our community,” Spivey said.

Camden Mayor Alfred Mae Drakeford, who later lead a group up and back the trail’s length, said Tuesday’s ribbon cutting was something many people in the city have looked forward to for a long time.

“This project is the first greenway to be built from start to finish,” Drakeford said. “You know, we start a lot of things, but sometimes we don’t finish them, but this one has been completed from start to finish.”

Drakeford also said there are plans to work on the track in Scott Park.

“This 10-foot wide surface provides a place for all users regardless of age to get out an exercise and enjoy nature,” she said, before thanking everyone who worked on the project. “I want to personally thank (City Planner) Shawn Putnam … who first brought it to us and who has worked diligently to make sure this project stayed on track.”

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