Savannah’s Rails to Trails gets a makeover but still needs more work
Saturday morning, a group of 20 or more volunteers met at the McQueen’s Island Rails to Trails that travels parallel to Highway 80 in route to Tybee Island beach.
The east end of the trail starts outside of Fort Pulaski, while the western part of the trail ends in a makeshift shrine of sorts facing toward Elba Island.
The trail was built along what used to be the train tracks leading from the city of Savannah to Tybee Island, and the area around it was home to American Indians and Colonial Settlers as well as being a major shipping channel and early defense against potential and actual attacks from the Spanish, French and English forces at different times throughout history.
Fort Pulaski actually defended against ‘northern invaders’ during the Civil War, so the area is more than just a scenic walk and is one of the few Rails to Trails that has an historic fort sitting at one end of it as well as an historic light house.
One could easily spend an entire day walking, biking or running the trails around Fort Pulaski and on this morning, there is a large group of runners from Fleet Feet Sports as well as dozens of volunteers that are here to help clean up the trails and cut back overgrown vines that narrow the trail and provide a threat to bicyclists and runners who are not paying attention to where they are going.
As a matter of fact, two bicyclists this day are injured, one when a pedal fell off a rented bike and another who took the rough gravel and rock trails a little too fast and flipped over the handle bars, getting skinned up and possibly breaking a rib.
The trail, while flat, holds a host of dangers from an eroding path along the waterway known as the South Channel of the Savannah River.
Early morning runners have reported seeing rattlesnakes lying in the middle of the trail, and at certain times of the year, the flies, mosquitoes and gnats are torturous.
The further west you go on the trail, the more erosion you see, primarily because there is no barrier between the hard packed trail and the water system, so high spring tides, hurricane and tropical storm winds send the water crashing onto the trail itself, eroding the man-made oyster shell barrier.
Parts of the road are washed out almost entirely, leaving just a foot or so of solid ground and this area can only be repaired by engineers due to regulations that prevent certain types of materials being used and causing pollution risk to the water or debris interference with wildlife and boaters.
There are no regulations to prevent anyone from picking up trash along the trail, and several regular trail walkers do this on almost a daily basis, walking with trash bag in hand collecting bottles, cans, candy wrappers, cigarette butts, lost flip flops, liquor bottles and on this particular day, a microwave oven and shotgun shells!
Much of the trash along the western end of the trail washes up from the water. There are plastic St. Patrick’s Day cups, multiple old style light bulbs, plastic oil cans with old oil still in them and untold numbers of plastic water bottles, fishing corks and empty chip bags.
Volunteers picked up several hundred pounds of trash, including old tires.
Michelle Walker-Daniel set up the clean up day after becoming concerned that nothing was being done by the city or county to maintain the trails.
She has started a facebook page to encourage an organized volunteer group to work on getting the trails repaired and maintained and is working on starting a non-profit to raise money to help make sure the trail is around for a long time.
The biggest expense will probably be to set up a riverside barrier to prevent the tides from washing away any more of the trail.
Daniel also received permission to have volunteers cut back some of the overhanging limbs and thorn bushes and clear dead palm branches off the trail, nail in loose boards and nails on picnic tables and exercise stations and replace a broken one mile marker sign on the west end.
Early morning fisherman were surprised to drive up and see over 50 cars parked around the middle entrance to the trail and were glad to see that someone was working to clean things up.
The Army Corp of Engineers was also out working on one of two wells sunk into the ground to test for encroaching salt water into the aquifer to determine how possibly deepening the harbor might negatively impact on Savannah’s water supply.
By 10:30 the volunteers have collected trash, raked trails, repaired anything repairable and even found a few old bottles that looked like they dated to the early 1900s, one of which had been damaged by heat.
If you have never visited the trails by Fort Pulaski, it is a must do thing, but it is better to go in cooler weather and necessary to bring a good supply of water and a snack with you, as the entire six mile trail is one way and coming back means you will have traveled 12 miles.
Volunteers passed by two boys who looked like they miscalculated just how far 12 miles is and neither had water with them, but did make it back to the mid-point safely.
If you would like to help with the restoration of the trails, you can join the facebook page and keep informed about future efforts to work on the trail and raise funds to keep it protected from erosion.