PAL’s impact in Spartanburg
Today’s blog is featured in Mary Black Foundation’s 2021 Annual Report.
‘Transformative’ accurately describes the impact the Daniel Morgan Trail System (The Dan) will have on Spartanburg County. The urban trail network will be over 55 miles long and is designed to link existing and proposed trails in an ambitious project that will provide direct access to recreation, transit, educational opportunities, and jobs.
For PAL and its community partners, this transformation has been a long, deliberate process. It takes time to create a viable, sustainable vision and build relationships to turn a vision into reality. The implementation can feel like slow work. But as segments of the trail open, momentum has been building. The community has begun to see the impact of years of behind the scenes work by PAL, its advocates, partners, and funders.
Partnership with Mary Black Foundation
PAL and the Mary Black Foundation have been in partnership to promote opportunities for active living for over 20 years.
Through the Foundation’s Healthy Community Initiative (1998-2003), a task force to address the risks of cardiovascular disease, prioritized the creation of an environment in Spartanburg County that was conducive to physical activity. PAL was formed as a result and has been leading the charge ever since.
While PAL works to make Spartanburg a healthy community in many ways, — including implementation of a Healthy Schools Initiative, advocating for bicycle and pedestrian safety, and promoting a culture of wellness — the impact of The Dan has been the most visible and widespread. In fact, it is an important project that supports individual health, community vibrancy, and economic development.
According to Katherine O’Neill, One Spartanburg, Inc’s chief economic development officer, The Dan is a game changer when it comes to attracting and retaining talent. Real estate developers and employers look to invest in communities that are attractive to people. One example is a new development along the Mary Black Foundation Rail Trail. A venue for restaurants, retail, and outdoor space, Fretwell is being built along the trail to seize on its popularity. Similarly, many families are moving into communities where there are developed outdoor spaces that enhance their quality of life.
Even tourism benefits from projects like The Dan. Visitors to Spartanburg are looking for outdoor activities throughout the County. The Dan will be an integrated trail network connecting the Pacolet River and Middle Tyger River, with Spartanburg in the middle, amplifying the region’s unique footprint.
Something for Everyone
There is something for everyone on The Dan. Laura Ringo, PAL executive director, describes each section of the trail as being inspired by its geography. For example, the Mary Black Foundation Rail Trail, located in the heart of Spartanburg, is built on a former railroad line. Its flat, paved surface is accessible to people of all abilities and is ideal for its urban location. In the rural parts of the County, the trail design will take its cue from the landscape, integrating accessible walkways that connect residents to the County’s more natural settings. There is evidence that the demand for trails is increasing. The Mary Black Foundation Rail Trail clocked over 25,000 uses in 2009, and in 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, use of the trail skyrocketed to 217,000 uses!
As Laura Ringo reflects on the importance of the more than two-decades-long relationship between PAL and the Mary Black Foundation, she highlights the general operating support that the Foundation has consistently provided, which is the hardest type of funding for nonprofits to secure. The multi-year funding has allowed PAL to focus its time and resources on growing its mission.
But the support has been more than financial: The Mary Black Foundation has been a motivating partner in challenging PAL to grow and mature as an organization. This push allowed PAL to dream of bigger initiatives like The Dan, giving PAL the confidence to secure other community partners and seek funding to make the integrated trail network a reality.
The many years of support from the Foundation allowed for the most recent PAL success. PAL assisted Spartanburg County in receiving a R.A.I.S.E. grant of $23.8 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation. This infusion of capital will help build out a significant portion of The Dan, accelerating the plans of PAL and its partners.
Community-Building at its Finest
To dream, strategize, and implement an initiative this enormous requires thinking big, integrating systems, engaging the community, and developing infrastructure. Yet, Laura Ringo’s vision for The Dan comes back to the people who will benefit. She imagines residents safely accessing a trail within walking distance from their homes, exploring the natural resources and historic areas, or visiting downtown shops and restaurants. She sees the opportunity that The Dan brings to connect people of all ages, demographics, and abilities – seniors, young professionals, college students, and families with children. To bring active living opportunities to all residents of Spartanburg County is community-building at its finest.
To read more from Mary Black Foundation’s 2021 Annual Report, visit: https://maryblackfoundation.org/about-us/annual-report/