About 25 years ago, a state-spanning trail started to make its way across South Carolina. With more than 100 miles left to go, the project is still in progress today.
The Palmetto Trail was launched in 1994 by the Palmetto Conservation Foundation, a statewide nonprofit based out of Columbia.
By the beginning of next year, the trail's completed passages should span about 400 miles total, said Natalie Britt, the foundation's executive director. That's about 80 percent of the way to finishing the natural network, which will be between 500 and 520 miles when complete.
It's intended to span "from the mountains to the sea." In this case, that means from Awendaw in Charleston County to Walhalla, a city at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Oconee County.
It's possible to thru-hike the trail now, Britt said, but the completed project will provide a continuous path, connecting each passage from the Lowcountry to the Upstate.
Right now, either part or all of 29 different passages are open to the public.
Portions of two passages are in Charleston County: the 7.1-mile Awendaw Passage and the 47-mile Swamp Fox Passage. As the longest section of the Palmetto Trail, the Swamp Fox passage connects directly to the end of the Awendaw Passage and ends near Lake Moultrie in Berkeley County.
Multiple projects along the trail have been recently completed or are underway this year.
About 1½ miles of new trail was recently added to the Roundtop Mountain Passage in Pickens County. Known as the Carolina Hemlock Loop, the addition highlights the Carolina Hemlock tree, a mid-size evergreen that's native to the area.
Sometime this fall, the full Stumphouse Passage in Oconee County will be completed, Britt said. A portion of that passage is connected to a 442-acre mountain bike park opened on land owned by the city of Walhalla.
The foundation is also ready to bid out the creation of a trail across Ross Mountain that would connect the Stumphouse Passage to Oconee State Park.
Another longer passage — a 25-mile trail connecting Fort Jackson to Wateree — is also in the planning stages. Completing that trail will likely take at least two years, Britt said.
"It's a long process to do it the right way," she said.
Starting any new section requires collaboration with public and private landowners. Trails need to be planned carefully to both find the most efficient route and to eliminate impact on the environment, Britt said.
The passages traverse a broad spectrum of landscapes and also, in some areas, they cross through cities and towns.
Earlier this year, the city of Newberry celebrated its incorporation into the trail. The recently opened connector runs through an 18th century cemetery, down the city's Main Street and along the Newberry College campus, passing by historic homes, the Newberry Opera House and city's old courthouse.
"The more miles we add, the more we've seen our numbers and our awareness increase," Britt said.
That poses a challenge, too, Britt said, since more hikers means an increased need to educate visitors on how to responsibly and safely travel the passages.
All hikers should have a safety plan in place before setting out on the trails and should review the information the foundation has available on its website about the passages, Britt said. Each path can vary on length, difficulty, terrain and the activities permitted.