Filling in the Palmetto Trail's final gaps Plan outlines $21 million worth of needed connections (copy)

A section of Jones Gap State Park. The park will grow by 955 acres after a donation from the Nature Conservancy. File/Staff.

A state park in the Upstate is growing by about a quarter of its current size with the addition of 955 acres of Blue Ridge wilderness, expanding the popular park's capacity to accommodate visitors.

The property, known as Gap Creek, will be added to Jones Gap State Park in northern Greenville County

The Nature Conservancy, an Arlington, Va.-based charitable environmental organization, purchased the acreage from private landowners for $3.7 million in 2017 with plans to eventually transfer it to the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, which oversees South Carolina's 47 state parks. 

The property likely won't be open to the public for about two years while the S.C. State Park Service plans and develops amenities for it. 

Once the land is open, it will help meet an already growing demand to access the site. With only 36 provided parking spaces now, Jones Gap often reaches capacity early in the day during the busy season, according to the tourism department.

The new addition was the largest remaining unprotected portion of the Mountain Bridge Wilderness, a 40,000-acre swath of land between the Table Rock Watershed and the North Saluda Watershed. Gap Creek nearly completes the corridor, which was originally planned by the conservationist Tommy Wyche of Greenville. 

Gap Creek is a habitat for several rare species including a type of big-eared bat, a "critically imperiled" green salamander and a recently discovered species of the trillium flower. Black bears, songbirds and fish are also known to live in the area. 

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Nature Conservancy's involvement in the Palmetto State. The group also gave 300 acres of land to Jones Gap in 2012. That donation was the product of a three-year fundraising campaign that was supported by more than 400 citizens. 

Jetting off

With passenger counts already up 12.4 percent over 2018 figures, Charleston International has predicted that more than 5 million people will pass through its terminal for the first time this year. Though Charleston's airport well outpaces others in the state in total deplanements, it isn't the only hub seeing growth. 

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Flights out of Hilton Head Island Airport, which recently added a larger runway and new service from major carriers like United Airlines and Delta Air Lines, saw more than triple the number of deplanements in April 2019 compared to the same month last year.

The deplanements are still comparatively low — less than 9,000 in April while Charleston saw more than 216,000 — but the growth has been rapid. So far in 2019, deplanements at Hilton Head have increased by 135%.

The Columbia Metropolitan Airport and Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport have also seen deplanements grow by 17% and 15%, respectively. The only major airport in the state showing decreases from last year is Myrtle Beach International Airport, which had about 7% fewer deplanements in April and traffic down 1.6% so far this year. 

Overall, deplanements in the state have been up more than 12% in 2019.  

Reach Emily Williams at 843-937-5553. Follow her on Twitter @emilye_williams.

Emily Williams is a business reporter at The Post and Courier, covering tourism and employment. She also writes the Business Headlines newsletter, which is published twice a week. Before moving to Charleston, her byline appeared in The Boston Globe.