Revitalizing Greenville: The Swamp Rabbit Trail’s Journey & Community Impact

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Today we uncover the story of the Prisma Health Swamp Rabbit Trail, a transformative 25-mile multi-use trail in Greenville County, with special guests Frank Mansbach, Volunteer Executive Director of Bike Walk Greenville, and Ty Houck, Director of Greenways, Natural and Historic Resources for Greenville County Parks, Recreation & Tourism. Discover how this cherished trail has impacted recreation, transportation, and the local economy, attracting millions of users and breathing new life into once-vacant areas. Dive into the power of persistence, advocacy, and community collaboration as we discuss the years-long efforts to improve safety and accessibility on the trail, and the crucial role elections play in shaping policy outcomes. Don’t miss this informative episode that showcases the potential of local civic engagement in transforming communities for the better.


Bike Walk Greenville

Prisma Health Swamp Rabbit Trail – Greenville County Rec

Swamp Rabbit Trail – City of Greenville

Article on Swamp Rabbit Trail crossing


Katy Smith: The Prisma Health Swamp Rabbit Trail is one of the most beloved assets in Greenville County. This 25 mile and growing multi-use trail runs from Traveler’s rest to Lake Conestee Nature Park, and since it opened in 2009, it’s found an enormous fan base among residents and it’s been a huge attractor to visitors.

And thanks to some persistent advocacy by users and partnership with government, it just got a lot safer. I’m Katy Smith with Greater Good Greenville, and on this episode I talk with Frank Mansbach, Volunteer Executive Director of Bike Walk Greenville and Ty Houck, Director of Greenways, Natural and Historic Resources for Greenville County Parks, Recreation & Tourism.

They’ll share with us how new tools are giving trail planners and advocates good data to use for the trail, and they’ll tell us the story of the long awaited safe trail crossing at West Blue Ridge. Their story has a lot of lessons for advocates, nonprofits, and government partners. As always, we put links for you to learn more on the episode page.

If you enjoy Simple Civics: Greenville County, give this podcast a follow on your favorite podcasting app and happy trails.

I am so happy to be here today with Frank Mansbach and Ty Houck, who are the biggest champions and, and forces behind the Swamp Rabbit Trail, one of our most treasured assets in Greenville County.

Thanks so much to both of you for being here.

Frank Mansbach: Great to be here.

Katy Smith: Awesome. Awesome. Well, all right, so as I said, the Swamp Rabbit Trail is one of Greenville County’s most treasured assets, and I assume everyone listening is not only familiar with it, but hopefully has taken a visit to it. But Ty, let’s start with you. Can you just give us some key facts about the Swamp Rabbit Trail?

Ty Houck: Yeah, so the idea started in the, uh, 1990s. Railroad track had been there since the 1890s, so we had all been seeing it for a while. And then, um, Upstate Forever and Furman University really became the initial advocates for the idea of converting the old railbed. And then in 2009 we put down our first section, just going between little bit south of Furman up to Traveler’s rest.

And then 2010, we made the connection to Greenville. That was nine miles. At that point, people kind of said, okay, that was, that’s the scope of the project. For job security, I wanted to make it bigger than that. And, uh, I knew it was gonna be a transportation network, even though I’m in Parks and Rec for Greenville County.

Uh, we definitely knew it was much more of a transportation element, especially going to destinations, community scaled transportation. Along the way, you know, I pulled out the, uh, the AASHTO manual for design for bike facilities and followed that. Um, AASHTO stands for American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials. It’s just the guidance that everyone follows at a, at a national level. So, as we were collecting data in 2009, we opened the trail. 2010, we partnered with Furman University and Dr. Julian Reed on it impact study because again, there was an expectation, like, “how many people are gonna use this?” You know, who’s gonna ride a bike up near your Travelers Rest? Why would they do this? We intentfully studied it. The numbers started off at low 300 thousands, the year 2010, a higher 300 thousands in 2011, and then years 13 and 14, our user number exceeded the population of Greenville County. So I was like, we, we kind of proved it. Now users, users are, you might have a repeat user, but we were collecting, data such as zip codes so we could kind of say, “Hey, how much tourism revenue are we generating from this?” You know, we were asking questions like, “how long are you on the trails?”

We get general trip distances. We were actually just monitoring, okay, well 86% of the users on bikes, so this is transportation. They’re going to destinations and they were giving us that information. And so then you kind of fast forward to what we’ve been doing with Bike Walk Greenville and other organizations like to track the data.

But now with technology, we’re using it in real time, direct feedback to the trail user with these trail counters. City of Greenville installed one a little bit over a year ago and then Travelers Rest just recently installed one, uh, last month. And so that gives you real time data, fun data to see.

And so kind of doing my simple math, I took the numbers of growth that we had there. The numbers of these trail counters last year, the City of Greenville had three quarters of million users. So from inception in 2009 to today, we’ve easily exceeded 8 million users.

Katy Smith: That is incredible.

Ty Houck: And then when you think about the data that, that they’re using it to go somewhere. Like I, I joke, I’m like, I don’t say that I’m recreationally driving to go out to dinner.

But I go out to dinner. And so me deciding to use my bike or use the trail to walk is transportation infrastructure, smart infrastructure, because I’m putting less cars on the tr… the, the roads, less congestion, less air pollution, plus the physical and mental benefits that you get from physical activity.

It’s just a, it’s just a smart infrastructure thing. So we’re, we’re excited to show 8 million users and we know that number’s gonna continue to grow of.

Katy Smith: That is so outstanding. I do love that you had a vision. You and others had a vision for what it could. And the average resident of Greenville County, like me just was delighted with each new thing. Um, and that’s what I think government works great when there’s general aspirations that residents have, but we don’t have the technical ability or the connections nationally to execute on them. But we have folks like you who do.

That number of users shows how popular the trail is, but for the past year, the trail has had a new source of data about the users in the form of streetlight data. Frank, can you tell us about this project and what you found through it?

Frank Mansbach: Yes. Well, just first of all, streetlight data is, is cell phone data that is, is anonymous and we had a very large donation to our nonprofit back in December this year that allowed us to get a one year license for streetlight data. And the first thing we did was calibrate the trail counter that our nonprofit raised money for at Willard Street, where we had all the data of how many people were on the trail.

And it was a little over 701,000 for the first year. And the streetlight data then started telling us stuff that nobody ever knew before. We found out that 26% of the trail users were visitors, they did not live in Greenville. In fact, I have a, a, a slide where I show the states. The Streetlight data showed that 26% of weekend trail users were from out of town. And they’re coming from Atlanta, they’re coming from Southern Georgia, they’re coming from North Carolina. In fact, 30 states were represented in the data.

Katy Smith: Oh my gosh.

Frank Mansbach: And that’s talk about what Ty mentioned, the economic impact. Those people are, are spending hospitality tax money that helps pay in the city for expansions of the trail.

And so it’s a phenomenal piece of information and what Ty also alluded is active transportation, not just recreation. The results from streetlight data shows that during the week, when people are commuting to work, 16.4% of the people are riding a bike to work. And we compare that to the national study, uh, where South Carolina has 0.5% bike commuters and we had 16.4%. That’s a huge number. And, and that’s fewer vehicles on the road, as Ty mentioned. And also people are using it to go to business meetings. A lot of people will ride their bike to the Swamp rabbit cafe for, for lunch or a meeting, whatever, and that’s transportation when they’re not in their cars.

Having this data is really huge and for continued investment by both the private sector and the public sector in this network.

Katy Smith: I really appreciate the investment, the philanthropic investment that you all raised and put into this project. And using good data to make better decisions about government dollars, about private dollars, and ways to improve our community overall. So thanks so much for that. So I hope that those of you listening have been on the Swamp Rabbit Trail, but if you have not, let me just explain to your experience as you go through Berea.

Let’s say you’re headed from the city up to Travelers Rest. You are just… it’s just beautiful. You’re in the middle of a forest practically with the river running next to. You feel like you are in the middle of nowhere and you are right next to some of the most heavily trafficked roads in Greenville County.

And then suddenly you come to a crossing, West Blue Ridge, that has cars flying down it headed to Whitehorse Road or over to Poinsett Highway. It’s jarring. And until coming up soon, you would have to, you know, kind of take your life into your hands and think about how am I gonna dodge these cars in a frogger like way and get to the other side safely to resume my lovely ride.

Ty, can you talk about what trail users can soon expect in the Berea area to have a safer crossing in that area, why it’s been problematic before, and what trail users and drivers can soon expect?

Ty Houck: There’s a term called warrants, like the definition goes, does something warrant an improvement? We studied the two intersections because they’re a four-lane or, or more. So West Blueridge, the one we’re referring to, is a five lane road, and then Sulfur Springs is a four-lane road.

And we just knew just the volume and the speeds and just the amount of traffic, we needed to make an improvement as opposed to just asking people to look both ways and cross the road. So we did a, a traffic study, uh, with Gay Sprague back in the day, and it, and the data showed that it warranted the installation of a traffic light at both intersections, and that is becasue the trail functions like a road. So it’s just a road without cars. So DoT agreed and they said yes. Okay. The amount of intersection traffic happening at these two locations warrant a traffic light, just if it was a normal intersection with cars.

So we proceeded with Sulfur Springs. It was actually my own kind of choice because it was a significant change. And I said, let’s go ahead and install this one first. See how the construction goes, see how the operation goes, and then move forward on the, on the larger intersection.

Because also at the same time, there was a, a box culvert underneath 253. And obviously if you can, it’s called grade separate, if you can separate trail users from having to cross a road, they’re always gonna be safer.

So we spent a little bit of time, not, not a lot, but we spent a little bit of time looking at that box culvert and, and quickly just realized the hydrology of the Reedy River was just gonna make it very problematic. So we walked away from that and, and kept on trying to explore, uh, different options.

You know, looked at a bridge way back then. At the time, there wasn’t the appetite for the cost of it, which is, I never wanna use that as an excuse. I’m just saying the reality of getting the momentum back then when the data was still kind of young, we were just kind of encouraged to look at different things.

But eventually we came to a point it’s like, okay, this look both ways and cross at 253 was creating a lot of problems, primarily because what I call southern hospitality. A car would see someone not in the roadway at all, just on the sidewalk, on the edge of the trail, and be like, “oh, I wanna be polite and I’ll stop for these trail user to go,” but you’re still dealing with three other lanes of traffic. The major problem that they were having was that cars would stop unexpectedly and the cars behind ’em weren’t paying attention. So there was a lot of rear end accidents.

And again, going back to the warrants with SC . DOT is, is if those happened at any intersections, those are classified as accidents of course.

And then they kind of say, “Hey, we have a, we have a design issue here that is problematic.” Going forward with that we were like, okay, it’s time. Well, let’s go ahead. The traffic light work is working at, at Sulfur Springs, um, it’s an improvement. And then let’s go ahead and install the one at at West Blue Ridge.

And at that time there was just belief that the impact was going to have, have a noticeably adverse effect on the flow of traffic for vehicles and that camp, that constituents we’re vocal enough that I was told to pause moving forward on putting it out to bid for the traffic light.

You know, we have worked through that process now, and it’s a statement to the advocacy, the awareness of the Swamp Rabbit is, the popularity, the large audience connections it has. And so DOT should this week or if not next week, be activating a traffic light, which again, is not the preferred final solution.

And with Benton Blounts assistants as the council member and the developer on the north side of this project, we are actively working through a design of a bridge to go over that intersection.

Katy Smith: Frank, this crossing has been a focal point of advocacy, understandably for Bike Walk Greenville and for others for a long time. In fact, you were recently quoted in a story about it on WYFF saying “advocacy for safe biking and walking is measured in decades and not years.” Can you tell us about the advocacy process and what you learned along the way?

Frank Mansbach: Back when I was working with Fluor uh, he contacted me and asked to get some volunteers to look at the box culverts, and we got some professional engineers, civil engineers out. We looked at it and came to the conclusion that Ty mentioned that it’s too many floods.

It wasn’t gonna work. And then Ty had another study done soon thereafter, and, and that idea went away. And that was in 2015. The first light came in at Sulfur Springs at 2018, September, 2018. And then, I posted on, on Facebook a picture of, of tire tracks through the middle of the median.

With a person standing there in these skid marks. And I posted that in the end of 2019 saying that we understand this is gonna finally be a signal here in 2020. And that was the data that Greenville Rec had given us at the time. 2020 came and there’s no signal. I was told personally by the former chairman of County Council that he firmly believe that people driving cars had precedents over anybody recreating on the swamp rabbit trail.

He said they were doing important business and he did not believe they should be stopped. And that belief stymied the project for a number of years, and it did not change until the primary election in June of 2022, when Benton Blount, who campaigned on a theme of building the bridge over the, uh, 253, defeated the incumbent.

And what happened next is our, our advocacy group strategized and, uh, Dr. John McBernie, who’s the vice chair of our board, wrote a editorial the Post and Courier published. It just name the facts and, and, and use the data we had of how many people crossed this trail and how long it’s taken and the fact that we had blockage politically and now’s the time to act.

And amazingly, that was published in July. And we forwarded to the top safety official at SC DOT in Columbia that, that we had networked with. And within days, the district four engineers were onsite starting the design work that is coming to fruition with the light becoming operational the next few days.

Katy Smith: Wow. It shows the importance of persistence and advocacy. The biggest, hardest things to do, that are really the most worth doing, in my opinion, take years, and I’m so grateful to you for working on it for all that time to both of you.

Frank Mansbach: Well, and, and the other point is elections have consequences. And if you were blocked in your advocacy, sometimes the only way it’s gonna work is for the incumbent to lose.

Katy Smith: I’ve said it time and time again in many past episodes of this, that competition in elections to me is the best thing cause it infuses ideas. And it was really when, now Councilman Blount started really talking about this, um, that it, it helped accelerate the work that had been happening. So, yeah, really, really interesting.

Ty, it was thanks to advocacy that happened from the outside of the county, and I’m sure you know, work that you did to help educate and inform along the way. But as an employee of local government who works closely with advocates and the community at large, what have you learned along the way during this whole process?

Ty Houck: I think in any relationship… business, advocacy, whatever, there’s just, it sounds cliched, but just good open communication because I think if there was a tendency not to kind of update your advocates on what’s going on, the realities of what has to happen and in, in a government world, whatever agency is, obviously it has to be more data driven than, than compassion driven.

And advocates are a great forum for passionate people to kind of get organized and work with the agencies that have to do the implementation. These greenway systems are, are roads without cars, so the infrastructure costs are way more than than typical advocacy groups can bear the burden. Long term, they need to be managed by a government entity. So what I’ve learned, we’ve learned is let the advocates be the passionate ones, let the advocates think of the solutions. And then through good communication, good consistent communication, work with the entities that have to operate and maintain that to understand the realities of the data has to warrant again, the idea. So, case in point or some examples is, is we know things are going to happen. Like when we put trails out there, we know we need these things, but from a government standpoint, we have to have the data to prove that it’s warranted. So there is a natural, unfortunate sometimes, but there’s a natural delay in implementing what we know is right.

Because we need the data to show that at that specific location here is a, uh, functional solution. And I think what we’ve learned is that as, as a, as a working group, you know, there’s stuff that individuals learn, but I think we learn is, is it takes decades. I like to think it doesn’t take that long, but, um, uh, Let’s just keep moving through the process.

So I am continually engaged with people that are adjacent to the trail saying that, you know, I am, I’m a teacher here and I’m trying to bike to school and I’m trying to get the students to bike more. Or I moved to this neighborhood because it’s next to the swamp rabbit, it’s within my price range.

But the connectivity to the actual network is, is not where it could be. And the fact that we now have very strong advocacy groups like Bike Walk Greenville, it gives, the tool that I’ve learned to use is, I hear you engage with this group. Otherwise, I’m dealing with a bunch of individuals with a bunch of different ideas.

And I think collectively we realize we understand the design realities, we understand the impact of large advocacy groups that are willing to work in, if you just are aggravated advocates.. They’re difficult to work with. If you’re willing to be engaged I think we’ve learned and we’ve seen, not only learned, but we’ve seen the impact of, of that approach.

Katy Smith: That is a great point. I think there’s a lot of times there’s concerned citizens that are excited or angry about something and they don’t exactly know what to ask for specifically and when to ask it of whom to ask it. And when you can have a point person or party like you have been Frank in Bike Walk Greenville, it helps everyone channel their interests and energies at the right time and in the right way.

That’s a really great point.

Ty Houck: Yeah, and I, and if I could just add like, so even back before the trail was in existence, if it wasn’t for Upstate Forever’s legacy and pedigree, this would’ve been even a harder sell because we didn’t have a greenway system like this in South Carolina. This was even before the BeltLine project was kind of even being talked about in Atlanta.

So if Upstate forever and their legacy and their, and their expertise and their credibility wasn’t already established… They would’ve had the same problem with a few people asking for something, but not enough of the right voices willing to listen.

Katy Smith: Great point. One other thing that comes to mind in this is the idea of narrative. And I think you’ve done such a great job, not only with data, but kind of the story behind it. You know, to your point about the councilman who wanted to give cars precedent with the thought that the people in those cars are going more important places than the people on the trail.

You’ve documented that no, people in the trail are going important places too. And also, why should we assume that everyone in the car is going somewhere important? I can tell you I have a teenager who goes to cookout an unbelievable number of times. He’s taken up space on the road. Why should he get precedent over someone riding their bike to work?

And then I think just the economic driver that the trail is, is just really helped shift the conversation tremendously with the data and the narrative.

Ty Houck: The phrase is always private investment follows public investment. And so the simple trail, but with these amazing amount of user numbers has gotten properties that no one had been touching for decades. New people are looking at, just north of 253 is, is the on the trail project, which is a Superfund project.

I mean, who, who wants to take on a Superfund project? But because of the trail, the EPA was like, we’re gonna put this into a fast track category, because we realized people don’t wanna touch Superfund projects. And as an industrial site, it was obviously close to a lot of population. EPA realized that if we fast track this, and the reason we’re gonna, we can justify fast tracking it is because of the trail.

If the trail wasn’t there, this project wouldn’t have moved to the speed that it did. It wouldn’t be looking at it an investor that’s filling in space. So infill is a very important thing, not only just for general congestion, but also for functionality of the trail. So you take these spaces and adjacent spaces that were just vacant, and you’re activating them. There’s Mount Cavalry Baptist Church, closer to Swamp Private Cafe and grocery, had a wasteland of busted up concrete. And now Riverside apartments are there now. And these people are like, you know, we’re living in kind of multi-family residential units with a bike room provided by the apartment complex.

And they’re like, well, it’s a lot easier to get around by bike from there to downtown. Those developers say we look in communities for boutique locations or something that that community’s focused around and they’re like, we absolutely would not be redeveloping in this area if it wasn’t for the trail.

Frank Mansbach: Let me, let me add to that. Uh, The Swamp Rabbit Cafe and Grocery, was founded in 2011, soon after the trail came. And as most people know, it’s been a phenomenal success, and the development that it has spawned on Hampton Avenue is incredible.

The Riverside Apartments would not exist in my mind, had the Swamp Rabbit Cafe not been so successful. And then as you go further down with Hampton Station and the water tower development that’s under construction. You’ve taken a very poor and vacant area and it’s now taxable, vibrant community where people wanna live cuz they’re right on the trail.

It’s, it’s an incredible success story and kudos to the Swamp Rapid Cafe duo. They’ve done amazing work.

Katy Smith: They really have. Yeah. Well, Frank Ty, I’m so grateful for all that you do to make many things in Greenville County great with new modes of transportation and recreation, but especially for the swamp trail and for making it safer for users.

Ty Houck: Thank you.

Catherine Puckett: Simple Civics: Greenville County is a project of Greater Good Greenville. Greater Good Greenville was catalyzed by the merger of the Nonprofit Alliance and the Greenville Partnership for Philanthropy. You can learn more on our website at This is a production of the Greenville Podcast Company.

Image via designer491 on Canva.

Join the discussion

  • I absolutely loved reading about the Swamp Rabbit Trail’s impact on the community in Greenville County. It’s amazing to see how this trail has not only provided recreational opportunities but has also sparked economic and social growth in the area. Thank you for sharing this inspiring story of revitalization.
    -Alex Cool