2015 marked by parks, planning and people

Visitors pass through an oak allee as they run along the trails of Laurel Hill County Park in Mount Pleasant in February.

Even with two more weeks left in 2015, the year laid some incredible groundwork for growing a more active, outdoorsy life in the Lowcountry.

Plans for parks and other outdoor infrastructure were introduced and only time will tell when or if they will bear fruit.

The Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission had a big year, kicking off 2015 with the opening of the 754-acre Laurel Hill County Park in Mount Pleasant in January and the 37-acre McLeod Plantation Historic Site on James Island in April.

And with the Charleston area getting more developed, the commission continues to understand the urgency of saving some green before its gone.

It also acquired a 57-acre tract, the site of the former Baker Hospital, on the Ashley River and is working on a plan. More recently, it invited input on a 245-acre park on Rifle Range Road. A survey remains open until Friday and can be taken at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/RifleRangeRoadPark.

And not all parks are green.

In late October, the commission broke ground on a long-awaited skateboard park, named S8 Charleston, on three acres on Oceanic Street. With a price tag of $4 million, skateboard enthusiasts should expect the park to be rad. It is expected to open in fall 2016.

Also of note in 2015 were several plans to provide more bike and pedestrian connections in the Charleston area.

In March, Charleston Moves kicked off its Pedal People CHS initiative, which took in 1,300 surveys of the most common routes on the heavily cycled peninsula to help prioritize infrastructure.

The plan is being finalized and will be released early in the new year.

“The goal is to immediately improve the streets where most people ride bikes without majorly pricey changes. No resurfacing projects, no moving curbs or storm drains,” says Kurt Cavanaugh, director of Charleston Moves.

In April and May, the Berkeley Charleston Dorchester Council of Governments held public hearings on making Folly Road, from the Wappoo Cut to Folly Beach, more bike- and pedestrian-friendly.

In the summer, the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission used the same wiki-mapping surveying to develop its People 2 Parks, or P2P, in an effort to connect residents with parks via bike and pedestrian lanes and paths.

September brought probably the most ambitious, and certainly long-term, plan. The East Cooper Land Trust introduced the idea of an 80-mile bike and pedestrian trail that would connect the Cooper River with the Santee River and the treasure trove of recreational amenities in between.

More immediate to 2016 are plans to connect the peninsula of Charleston with West Ashley and James Island via the Legare Bridge and James Island Connector. Earlier this month, city of Charleston consultants presented options for reopening (legally) the connector to bike commuters.

The Charleston area running scene was a bit of a roller coaster in 2015.

The 38th Cooper River Bridge Run and Walk took big dips in registrants (5,500) and finishers (4,500) from the previous year and the speculation ranged from a higher registration fee and spring break to concerns over security at mass events.

Some races were forced to change venues or dates by local governments because of schedule conflicts or construction. The city of Charleston made both the James Island Connector Run and the Reindeer Run move from dates that they usually occupy on the calendar.

Both, however, were among the races that set new participant records.

The connector run was held two weeks earlier than its first Saturday in November and set an overall participant record of 1,188 (thanks to a much larger 5K, with 626 participants.)

The Reindeer Run, held last Saturday (a week later than usual), had 2,688 participants, which beat the previous record set in 2013 by 282.

Meanwhile, the second biggest race in the state, the Knights of Columbus Turkey Day Run and Gobble Wobble, got bigger and may vie to be a top 10 5K in the nation. Turkey Day, which remained in its traditional spot of Thanksgiving Day, set records with 8,216 registrants and 7,539 finishers.

Another significant number for a long-established event in Charleston had nothing to do with the participants. In August, the 25th annual Charleston Sprint Triathlon Series’ fifth and final race of the year marked its 100th event.

Organizers of events were faced with the challenges of a tragedy and a natural disaster that put Charleston in the national news this year.

The shootings of nine people at Mother Emanuel AME Church immediately brought cancellations and postponements, including the first daytime Yogapop yoga festival in June.

October’s historic flooding not only caused cancellations and postponements of events set for the weekend of Oct. 3 and 4 but also Oct. 10-11.

Meanwhile, the Charleston adventurous set took their game on the road.

In March, three locals — nurse practitioner Catherine Sullivan Rubinstein, attorney Eric Bradshaw and pulmonologist Dr. Lynn Schnapp — were among only 188 people from 20 countries who traveled to the bottom of the planet to run the 16th annual Antarctica Marathon.

For the second consecutive year, local investment manager Don Alderman returned to Hawaii in July to finish the grueling 32-mile Molokai 2 Oahu Paddleboard World Championships, considered to be paddleboarding’s most prestigious race.

A year after she coached a local man to complete Norway’s Isklar Norseman Xtreme Triathlon, 41-year-old endurance coach Anne Ahern Moore returned in early August to finish the chilly Ironman triathlon in 15 hours and 31 minutes.

And in September, South Carolina’s most accomplished marathon swimmer, Kathleen Wilson, who also is a Charleston City council member, attempted to be the first to swim the 22 miles between Trinidad and Tobago, but sickness stopped the swim short. It’s just the second of 14 marathon swims she didn’t finish.

Outdoor gear stores, especially running and cycling specialty stores, serve an important part of the community and often operate as clubs, giving people of similar interests the chance to bond and train together.

A year after the closings of The Extra Mile and On The Run running stores, another fitness specialty store, TrySports, closed its doors in Charleston last month. The store known for its slogan, “Believe.Achieve,” opened in Mount Pleasant in February 2004.

I personally find so much inspiration in older seniors who remain active. Three that I knew passed on in 2015.

In June, the oldest man to complete the Cooper River Bridge Run and Walk, 93-year-old Leroy Thomas Miller of Hanahan, died just months after beating his old record. Miller, who played football and baseball for Charleston High School in the 1940s, started his running career at age 80 after having open heart surgery.

A month later, local running legend Margaret Wright died at the age of 94. Wright was a regular on the running circuit from the time she started running in 1978 at the age of 56 until 2005 when Parkinson’s disease limited her ability.

And just this past weekend, Neil Jacobs, an older triathlete who didn’t let years of battling cancer stop him from competing in the Charleston Sprint Triathlon Series, passed away in a hospital in Durham, N.C.

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