Bags of garbage, old paint cans and used truck tires are some of the things people are dumping on the Palmetto Trail, say supporters of South Carolina’s mountains-to-the-sea footpath.
To people like David Myers, it’s a sad legacy. Myers said the trail near his property in Orangeburg County is a mess at times.
“It’s just horrendous,’’ said Myers, who has a farm near Eutawville. “It makes the whole community look bad and it’s definitely not attractive for any hiker that comes along.’’
Myers and other boosters of the 350-mile-long trail say the culprits aren’t hikers, but landowners who live near sections of the path. Some haul household trash down country roads that come close to the trail. They then walk on the trail and throw garbage in the woods, figuring no one is watching, according to the Palmetto Conservation Foundation.
“The Palmetto Trail faces significant environmental danger today from litter and illegal dumpsites,’’ a conservation foundation news release said, noting that “deliberate destruction of the Palmetto Trail is both harmful to the environment and a negative impact on tourism and economic development.’’
While anyone caught dumping garbage in the woods is subject to prosecution for littering, finding suspects in rural areas is difficult, according to the conservation foundation and Palmetto Pride, an anti-litter group.
For now, the best the groups can do is clean up the mess others are making. The conservation foundation and Palmetto Pride will oversee a trash cleanup next month on key sections of the Palmetto Trail. Volunteers are being sought to clean specific sections of the trail, and future cleanups of the trail also are expected.
South Carolina’s Palmetto Trail, a footpath across the state, cuts through 14 counties from Walhalla, in the southern Appalachian Mountains, to Awendaw on the coast north of Charleston. People can use the trail for free.
About 350 miles of trail have been established since efforts to develop the pathway started about 20 years ago, but all sections have not been linked together yet. When completed, the unbroken trail will stretch about 500 miles. A major unbroken chunk now extends from the coast to near Columbia. The Palmetto Conservation Foundation promotes the trail.
Mary Roe, programs director at the Conservation Foundation, said key areas of concern for trail dumping are outside Eutawville in Orangeburg County and in the Francis Marion National Forest near Charleston. Roe said those suspected of dumping garbage are more likely area residents than hikers.
“Sometimes, it’s misunderstood that the trail users are doing the garbage, and that’s not the case,’’ Roe said. “It’s the people in the communities that the trail goes through. There is a mentality still that people think they can throw their litter out.’’
Myers said that’s evident to him. Although the trail cuts through several miles of his farm near Eutawville, roads don’t run past it on his land. So dumping isn’t a big issue on his property. But segments of the trail that enter his property are easier to access by car — and that makes dumping easier, he said. Myers said he’s seen “tons of beer cans and tons of whisky bottles’’ dumped along the trail in areas with easier access.
“This is not coming from out-of-towners,’’ he said.
Conservation Foundation director Natalie Britt said disposal of household hazardous waste along the trail is a particular concern. That includes paint cans and other hazardous materials people accumulate in their homes, Roe said.
In addition to deliberate dumping, sections of the trail near Fort Jackson also are receiving litter from passing cars and nearby land in urban Columbia, officials said. Those areas also will be targeted in the cleanup next month.
“The Palmetto Trail is one of those special projects that provides our citizens with access to breathtaking natural beauty and also lures in travelers seeking outdoor adventures,” said Sarah Lyles, executive director of PalmettoPride. “Everyone needs to understand that litter is not just an eyesore, but it can be detrimental to our quality of life on many levels.”