A little, quarter-mile trail extension in North Augusta was completed in mid-January. The excitement over its completion – and the anticipation for it, physically imprinted on it 12 months prior, show the kind of value North Augustans place on their Greeneway.
The first signs of the .22-mile Greeneway extension between Woodstone subdivision and Mayfield Road showed up late in 2021 when the route was first clear cut, and “the bicyclists basically beat their own path down,” Bill Jackson said.
Jackson is a North Augustan who has been wanting further Greeneway improvements for nearly the past decade. The cyclists, he said, “wanted to continue the ride up into Edgefield County, the backroads up there, and this was the easiest way to get to it […] they were ahead of the city.”
Where it began: 1985 and the Norfolk Southern
The North Augusta Greeneway has been painstakingly pieced together over the past 38 years, from the first negotiations between the city and Norfolk Southern in the mid-1980s to the first section of paved trail in 1995 to the Mayfield extension completed this month. And the city isn’t done, not by a long shot.
A labor of love, those almost four decades of negotiations, grant writing and construction begun under its patriarch, former Mayor Tom Greene, have gotten it to where it is today: just over 7 miles on the mainline and another 22 or so miles in neighborhood offshoots. The trail is now being brought up Bluff Avenue to Center Street and its integration with downtown is pegged High Priority.
The city also owns the stretch of still-undeveloped, if also swampy, railbed from Gordon Highway at the Georgia-Carolina border to Little Horse Creek.
Plenty of potential for a southeast extension, Bob Brooks said.
Now a councilman for North Augusta, Brooks previously worked 38 years as director of the parks and recreation department. He was there in the mid-1980s when negotiations between the city and Norfolk Southern began over that first chunk of railbed south of Pisgah Road.
Brooks recalled that it took 2.5 years of grant research and negotiation before the deal was signed and sealed in 1988 and on what he said were good terms: The lower portion of the railbed, south of Pisgah Road, was donated to the city and with the city having first right of refusal on it.
The rails came out, the crossties removed and in 1995, a portion of that railbed – that which runs from Georgia Avenue up to Martintown Road – opened as the first paved section in North Augusta’s new Greeneway trail system. Within a couple of years, the trail was extended up to Pisgah and the two sections linked with the bridge over Martintown Road.
That was the easy part. Relatively, Brooks said. Because bringing the Greeneway north of Pisgah, “that was a horse of a different color.”
Part of the terms in the agreement with Norfolk Southern was that north of Pisgah, the railroad right of way would be sold to the adjoining property owners, not the city.
“And we agreed to it,” Brooks said. The condition was made in part because of that other term in the agreement, that the lower portion of railbed came to the city for free.
But it meant another three years of negotiations, this time with individual property owners, to bring the Greeneway just 1.2 miles up to Bergen Road.
“We had to go back though” and meet with the owners and make favorable concessions in landscaping for them, Brooks said. Eventually, the city was able to purchase at fair market prices about 90% of the old railbed from Pisgah to Bergen and to fiddle with the specs of the Greeneway just enough to skirt the need for buying that other 10% of right of way.
The section from Pisgah to Bergen cost nearly $507,500 and was funded, like much of the trail, by state grant money and city and county capital projects sales tax funds, according to the city’s Greeneway Master Plan.
By 2011, the Greeneway reached about 6 miles, ending at Bergen Road. Around 2014, Woodstone went up, and the developer linked the subdivision’s neighborhood trails to the Greeneway via Rippling Creek Lane, making for a terminus that lasted until this year’s Mayfield Drive extension, complete as of mid-January, spurred growth onward, closer to the prize: the Country Club property.
The Country Club property (or, prior to its acquisition in a 2019 land swap, Northview Park) has always been the goal. The vision hasn’t changed, Brooks said.
“Having access to the Country Club [property] through the Greeneway opens up numerous opportunities in Edgefield County for the city to look at possible parks and rec developments out there,” he said.
There’s been some pushback in that area, tinctured by a sense of encroachment, but one of the goals of the Greeneway has been to carry it “from North Augusta through Edgefield County to the city of Edgefield using the abandoned right of way,” Brooks said.
In the Master Plan, last updated in 2012, that vision is again laid down: “Ultimately, through a series of extensions, the Greeneway will extend through Bergen West and Woodstone to Martintown Road in the vicinity of Gregory Lake Road,” it reads.
The “Country Club property” is in a conservation easement, limiting its future use to little else than a public park or open greenspace. It’s now the focus of a city-wide Parks Master Plan that is nearing public review.
North Augusta acquired the 148-acre property by swapping Northview Park with an Edgefield County developer who agreed to North Augusta retaining the rights to the old railbed in what is now Windsor subdivision on Murrah Road.
The opportunity for that Greeneway extension into Edgefield County still exists with the Mayfield extension open and neighborhood connectors already in the development plans for that area between Mayfield and Gregory Lake Road.
“We would have to get from Bergen West across Gregory Lake Road and then get back to the Country Club … that’s not that difficult,” Brooks mused.
The Greeneway as “economic engine”
The Greeneway has remained at the forefront of North Augusta’s planning, both for parks and recreation and for overall development, since the first miles were paved.
The mainline trail now extends for a little over 7 miles – from the River Club golf course just east of Georgia Avenue, westward along the riverfront, past Hammonds Ferry and over Martintown Road; it then continues to I-20, where it dips below the freeway and comes up on Bergen Road and into Woodstone subdivision.
Now, the long-awaited Mayfield extension is complete, the first major extension in almost 10 years.
“If we are going to continue to grow, which we are, we have got to continue to invest in the Greeneway,” said North Augusta Mayor Briton Williams.
Now underway is the Bluff Avenue streetscape project, which will bring the Greeneway up from Hammonds Ferry to Center Street and, eventually, connect with the businesses downtown: A Travelers Rest kind of model, said Williams.
It’s “taken a while to get to this point” on the Bluff Avenue piece, said Williams, who said the downtown connector is “vital” for North Augusta. The city now has to “be courageous and figure out, ‘what does it look like?’ Those are conversations we’ve got to have […] It can be a great economic engine for us if we’re smart about it.”
Randy DuTeau, who heads up tourism at North Augusta Parks and Recreaction, said the Greeneway is already prominent in city promotions. It nearly butts up against the restaurants in Hammonds Ferry and Riverside Village and gives access to local business that is “primed to support users in a way other local spots can’t,” he said. “Once the Greeneway gets routed through downtown, this will provide even better connectivity.”
Many North Augustans have reaped the fruits of the trail for years. Others are more recent converts.
Darin Bowman moved to North Augusta in 2018 from Springfield, Illinois.
“I just wish it was three times as long,” he laughed. Bowman, who is studying real estate, said he also sees increased economic value of it if it’s brought into downtown – a big thing for enticing more business, he said.
The Greeneway is also being factored into the 2025-2029 Georgia Avenue bridge replacement. A barrier-separated section is part of the plan; it will link the Greeneway to the Canal and Bartram trails on the Augusta side.
And “people are screaming to tie the Greeneway in,” said Bill Jackson, that North Augustan long-involved in the Greeneway’s history.