Pathways to Sustainability

Community trails connect people to nature, and spur economic growth

GETTING THERE FROM HERE on Hilton Head Island is a centuries-old challenge.

Over 4,000 years ago, American Indians paddled their hewn dugouts all the way from the the Colleton, May, and Savannah Rivers seeking winter’s bonanza of oysters and game. We know they were here from their shell ring, shell mounds, and middens scattered over 42 square miles of high ground.

When English settlers arrived, they claimed large land holdings from one end of the island to another. Their plantations (large farms) with names like Calibogue, Leamington, Seabook and Spanish Wells were loosely connected by long dirt roads that wound around tidal creeks and swamplands. From the start, on this big island people and places have been separated by nature and distance.

In the 1950s, developers purchased some of the former plantation tracts, and these became some of the best known private communities including: Sea Pines, Shipyard, Palmetto Dunes, Port Royal, Palmetto Hall, Spanish Wells and Hilton Head Plantation. And what became of the old plantation roads? Most were paved and became the well-traveled U.S. Highway 278 (William Hilton Parkway) and Pope Avenue.

The fundamental problem with farm roads to paved roads layout: visitors, local residents, commercial vehicles,—all traveled the same few roads. Thirty years ago, the island also lacked any linking trails for pedestrians or bicyclists. I remember charting a route through forest, swampland and a couple of ditches simply to find a safer route to the grocery store. Traffic was a dam holding back circulation of people. And this blockage affected economic activity on Hilton Head Island.

The Calvary Arrives

In 1983, the swelling Hilton Head Island community incorporated itself as a municipality. A healthy majority of residents wanted to solve the traffic problem, regulate random development, created better recreation opportunities, and better protect the environment. The Town of Hilton Head Island commissioned a 30-year master plan for parks, recreation and open space. A key element was creation of an island-wide system of bicycle and pedestrian trails. The first pathway segment was completed in 1989. Since then, construction has accelerated. Today, the town provides almost 60 miles of public “pathways” for pedestrians and cyclists.  These multiple-use routes link to Town-maintained parks, beach access, open spaces, and important: local businesses.

Pathways to Sustainability

Bikers on the Island Pathway (Photo: Hilton Head Island Bluffton Chamber of Commerce)

The True Value of Pathways

The Town of Hilton Head Island plans even more pathways in the coming years. And the Town of Bluffton is in the master planning stages for developing more multi-use trails, such as those along Buckwalter and Bluffton Parkways. These commitments will be a significant boost the towns’ goal of achieving sustainability through:

  • Enhanced economic vitality—real estate and local business benefit by proximity to trails and pathways, which offer access to recreation and shopping.
  • A healthier, safer, pedestrian-friendly was of life that allows easy and safe mobility through the community for both residents and visitors.
  • Improved air and water quality—fewer trips in the car means reduced auto emissions and storm water run-off from roads.

Today is the best day to visit our pathways. So c’mon readers: strap on those walking shoes. Hop on you bike. Life is better outdoors, in your community with your friends.