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NEWS | Nov. 30, 2010

Weapons Station trail system at its best

By Terrence Larimer, Natural Resources Manager Joint Base Charleston

The bright fall weather is showcasing Joint Base Charleston-Weapons Station's trail system at its best.

Hikers, off-road bikers and nature lovers are enjoying the fall colors and cooler temperatures as they explore the base's woodlands and wilds. On weekends and holidays, parked cars overflow the existing parking lot onto adjacent road shoulders.

Located in the Marrington Plantation Outdoor Recreation area, the trail system is one of the premier hiking and off-road bicycling locations in South Carolina, serving as host to trail runners from as far away as Charlotte, N.C., during the recent inaugural Gator Bait 25K and 50K Trail Run.

The Charleston International Airport trains its bicycle officers on the trail system, the College of Charleston introduces new students to trail riding there, and annual National Public Lands Day events host volunteers in organized trail maintenance activities.

But the features which draw these crowds to the Marrington Outdoor Recreation Area trail system are a long way from their start. In fact, the trail system's history is a labor 10 years in the making.

In the 1970s, not long after Marrington was acquired by the Navy from the Westvaco paper company, a six-mile "nature trail" looped through Marrington. The trail was cut by the construction of the Berkeley County Water and Sanitation facility in the late '70s and erratically maintained in the 1980s. Hiking trails and a watchable wildlife nature trail were established by the Navy's Natural Resources staff on parts of the old nature trail and other areas in the early 1990s.

In 1999, the Natural Resources staff began to expand and improve the existing trail system to make it more attractive to hikers and the growing off-road bicycling community. Supported by an enthusiastic group of volunteers, the trail system expanded to its current 14 mile-long "red" trail.

In recent years, additional construction has resulted in a 4.2 mile long "Foster Creek Loop" trail, a one-mile "yellow" challenge trail and a one-mile alternate "blue" trail. Together, they total more than 20 miles of recreational trails crossing eight creek-spanning bridges and 19 wetland boardwalks.

Most of the trail construction and maintenance has been under the direction and supervision of Natural Resources Technician Don Watts. Mr. Watts was selected Nov. 16 by the American Trails Foundation for the 2010 National Trail Worker Award for his long standing efforts in support of the Marrington Trail System.

His hard work has resulted in the trailside counters tallying more than 700 hits per month, and under his direction, three formal off-road bike races, numerous informal organized trail rides and organized trail runs have been held.

His dedication to trail maintenance and construction, combined with lush, natural scenery, has created a timeless backdrop for outdoorsmen. They are surrounded with freshwater marshes and impoundments, bridges, bog walks and wildlife observation towers. Banked curves and obstacles offer a variety of technical challenges for cyclists.

With the cooler weather, visitation will undoubtedly stay high, keeping the trail system a magnet to hiking and biking enthusiasts, both civilian and military.

The system trail head is located just off Red Bank Road at the main entrance to Marrington Plantation. From there, the marked red loop covers 14 winding miles through pine and hardwood forests.

Cyclists on the trail are required to wear helmets and respect other users of the trail system. Non-Defense Department personnel are required to have a Recreation Badge, which can be applied for at the Outdoor Adventure Center at 764-2120.

For additional information about the trail system, contact Don Watts at 764-7951.