The Success of the Spanish Moss Trail

A quiet stroll and a safe bike ride are to be treasured and nourished in our fast paced world, but uninterrupted natural beauty can be hard to find, even harder in a busy and populated area such as Beaufort. Private houses, gated communities, traffic clogged  roads and commercial  shopping centers can all impede our enjoyment of what makes the Lowcountry country. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a paved trail that wound through our trees and across our waters, open to all and  free of charge?  One can dream…

That dream is a reality enjoyed by an estimated 38,000 people a year. Of course we are talking about Beaufort ‘s celebrated rails-to trail greenway, the Spanish Moss Trail.  With a current 20-mile round trip experience for residents and visitors, the Trail offers a 12-foot wide paved path that is dedicated to pedestrians and bicyclists. Free of charge and beautifully maintained, the Trail is a Lowcountry gem.

A little background
In November 2009, Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority acquired the right-of-way for the historic Magnolia Rail Line to use as a utility corridor. In January 2011, they granted a surface easement to Beaufort County to develop 16 miles of the corridor as a recreational trail – called the Spanish Moss Trail. The Friends of the Spanish Moss Trail (FSMT) was founded in 2012 by community-minded leaders, as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life in Beaufort County by advocating for the development, enhancements and maintenance of the Spanish Moss Trail. Today, ten miles of the Trail are open from Port Royal to Grays Hill.

The Trail itself is a vibrant member of our community. It is more than a multi-use path because it links neighborhoods and  offers public access to the nooks and crannies of our natural splendor. In addition  it brings an impetus to economic development and neighborhood revitalization. It is the best, and healthiest, friend a community can have!

Naturally enough, Like Beaufort county itself, there is a rich history along the Trail dating back to the Revolutionary War. More than fifty historic points have been identified by the Friends of the Spanish Moss Trail (FSMT), who recently celebrated the unveiling of seven new historic markers along the Trail. The new markers join the seven historic markers already installed and  highlight points of interest such as the Revolutionary Battle of Port Royal Island, Clarendon Plantation, Industrial Beaufort, Port Royal Agricultural and Industrial School, Pick Pocket Plantation and the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. Knowing the history of your location will certainly enhance your experience on the Trail.

Next Steps
Over time, the beautifully landscaped 12-foot wide paved Trail will grow from ten miles to sixteen. When the Master Plan is fully implemented, the Trail will connect Port Royal, Beaufort, Burton, Grays Hill and Seabrook – through neighborhoods, parks, water and marsh views, nature preserves, cultural features, historic sites and businesses for recreation, transportation and conservation purposes.

The next phase of construction on the Master Plan is the much-anticipated extension of the Trail from Ribaut Road to the Sands Beach in Port Royal, and then from Clarendon Road to the Whale Branch River. The Friends of the Spanish Moss Trail are also actively advocating for a formal Downtown Beaufort Connector that would run along the most scenic route from Bay Street to the heart of the Trail at the Depot Road Trailhead.

Dean Moss, the Founder and Volunteer Executive Director of the Friends of the Spanish Moss Trail, is the former General Manager of the Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority. He has spent his entire professional career, and the focus of his active retirement, working with water and land conservation activities.  Beaufort Lifestyle spoke with Dean about his involvement with the Spanish Moss Trail and what drives his passion for the outdoors.

BL: What do you want people to know about the Spanish Moss Trail?
DM: I think they need to know the Trail was built with private money due to the generous support in the past. The funding piece is the most complicated part of the project. When we first started, the funding was in place, which was very helpful.  We mastered the first big hurdle due to the  generosity of the James M. Cox Foundation and we were able to go from design to construction pretty rapidly. The very first completed piece was from Allison Road to Depot Road. But going forward the funding has to be a combination of municipal funding, community grants and significant donations from the private sector.
BL: Is the next phase creating a formal downtown connection?
DM: Yes and we will do it. We are working on that and the piece that gets us into the Town of Port Royal, which includes getting safely across Ribaut Rd. The popularity for the Trail is so great, we need to get it done.
BL:  The Trail literature says you can walk, run, bike and fish on the trail. Fishing sounds like a true lowcountry feature for a rail-trail.
DM: Fishing is definitely available. The current Trail is ten miles long and there are several  places where the Trail crosses over the water — including three trestles where there are intentional fishing spots.
BL:  What is your favorite part of the Trail?
DM: I like it all , and  I especially like out beyond the Marine Corps Air Station. It feels like you are way out in the country and it’s a very nice part of the country to explore.
BL:  What outdoor recreational activities do you enjoy?
DM: I am an avid cyclist and have been bicycling most of my life, especially the last twenty five years. I like to ride a lot, my wife Wendy Zara and I ride a good bit together. It’s something we can do together. We’ve ridden for pleasure all over the world. I am also a hiker, sailor and kayaker. We do spend an awful lot of time outdoors and plan travel experiences around hiking and biking.
BL: How often are you out enjoying the Trail?
DM: At least twice a week for a fun ride.
BL: Is the FSMT a volunteer organization?
DM: The Friends of the Spanish Moss Trail are all volunteers. I am a volunteer, the Board is all volunteer, clean up and landscaping are all volunteer, and lots of labor has been donated. So many folks have made generous contributions, making this project a true community effort.
BL: What has made your involvement with the Trail so rewarding?
DM: Getting it done! And now, being on the Trail and watching so many people use it. Residents and visitors grab their tennis shoes, bikes, scooters, jogging strollers, skates, wheelchairs and even walkers – and say, “this is great.” We are very proud of what we are accomplishing.

The continued success of the Trail is made possible through community partnerships, local government participation, and private support. The FSMT sustainable partnerships and investors include: Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority, Beaufort County, James M. Cox Foundation, BlueCross BlueShield of SC, Lockheed Martin, SCE&G, City of Beaufort, Town of Port Royal, Beaufort Memorial Hospital, private foundations and a large network of individuals and businesses. The continued success of the Spanish Moss Trail is made possible through the FSMT with a network of sustainable partnerships, local government participation, and the generous funding from community.

To support the efforts of the Friends of the Spanish Moss Trail (501c3), tax-deductible checks can be made payable to: Friends of the Spanish Moss Trail (P.O. Box 401, Beaufort, SC 29901) or online at

For more information on the work of the FSMT and easy navigation to the Trail, download the free Mobile App, The Spanish Moss Trail Mobile Guide (available on Apple Store and Google Play).
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Story by Cindy Reid for Beaufort Lifestyle Magazine
Photography by AJ Pierro Photography