An urban trail in any city is a treat and retreat for both locals and visitors. It is a path of protected greenery that both skirts and winds through the concrete jungle of city life, giving walkers, runners, cyclists, and skaters a little time and distance to get back to nature without having to leave civilization. On Spartanburg’s east side, Drayton Mills Trail is one of those much sought-after jaunts that will allow you a nice little escape from all the hubbub of Sparkle City.
Easily located on Drayton Road, which connects Spartanburg’s central north to the established east side, Drayton Mills Trail is just the newest of many crisscrossing urban trails now being developed in what is technically the county but feels like the city. It is all part of a larger and grander venture being handled by Partners for Active Living, a non-profit agency with the drive and knowhow to keep us active, grounded, and healthy.
Eventually, the Drayton Mills Trail will connect with existing and proposed trails that will cover some 32 miles, tapping into South Carolina’s mountains-to-sea Palmetto Trail. It probably won’t be long before Drayton Mills Trail is connected to the much-used Cottonwood Trail and Mary Black Foundation Trail. But for now, you can enjoy this short and scenic section in about 40 to 60 minutes and cover about three miles.
When driving Drayton Road, look for the upscale Drayton Mills Lofts, an historic cotton mill that is being beautifully rehabbed to be a vibrant and contained campus of apartments, fine restaurants, unique shops, and offices. This two-part trail starts here. Parking is especially easy and just across the street from Drayton Lofts in a spacious and paved lot shaded by old oaks and crepe myrtles.
The Drayton Mills Trail is bisected by Drayton Lofts and Drayton Road. So, while you are on the parking lot’s side of the road, start off easy and take the first leg of your journey on the short end that loops through reclaimed woodlands. It is only three quarters of a mile long, and you’ll find the clearly marked entrance toward the backside of the parking area. This can be relaxing and easy, warming you up for the second leg across the road, which is 1.2 miles one-way. The newly paved trail is ten feet wide and well maintained, free of any creeping vines or low hanging branches. You can bring your pet, but keep it on a leash.
If you like, this can be a walk in the park. Or, if you want to run or jog, go ahead. All travelers are welcome as long as they are not motorized.
Very quickly, visitors are ensconced in woodlands and clearings, with only the faint sounds of the city heard in the distance. This park-like environment is a haven for a wide variety of trees, including beech, sweet gum, dogwood, pine, mimosa, walnut, and magnolia. You may even see a few domestic shrubs gone wild, fading evidence of those before us. Wildlife is commonly seen in these forests and fields, including deer, rabbits, squirrels, and birds of many feathers. If you listen and look carefully, you’ll realize the celebrated Lawson’s Fork Creek is nearby. This is just the first taste of the trail. It will quickly loop back on itself, and you’ll find yourself back in the parking lot, ready for a little more.
Head straight toward Drayton Lofts, crossing Drayton Road, and go through heart of the developing campus. You are welcome to walk about the Drayton Lofts complex, and depending on construction and development, you could get sidetracked from your trek. You might find something interesting or need a breather, and that’s okay. The trail is not going anywhere. But if you are determined to stay your course, walk through the campus, bearing right as you leave the backside, which is adjacent to a classic mill village of small and well kept homes. This is your chance to see up close the charm of a Southern cotton mill village being revitalized. The second leg of the trail picks up at the corner Floyd and Skyuka Streets.
Very quickly, the neighborhood gives way to more woodlands and fields. The trail is curvy with only gentle slopes, nothing a person of average health and a good pair of athletic shoes couldn’t handle. But again, if you have the time, take it. Note that naturalists have name-tagged many of the trees: Tulip Poplar, Mockernut Hickory, Scarlet Oak, Black Oak, and Hickory.
In all this natural wonder, you might be surprised to see works of art along the trail. Stop and take a look, and ponder what social comment they are making. They are part of a student art project to show the connection between the textile industry and how it impacts the lives of people.
Eventually, this trail comes out along Skylyn Drive and merges with the Mary Black (Memorial Hospital) Trail before looping back on itself.
Unlike most of the Drayton Mills Trail with its dappled sunlight coming through a green canopy, this portion is under open sky and the landscape is manicured to hospital perfection. The walk will continue toward the hospital’s signature black and white towers before bearing to the left. This is but a short exposure to a well tended healthcare facility and soon, you are headed back into the woods for the return trip. If you missed a sight or two the first time — the train trestle or the mill pond — now you’ll get a second chance.
Because this trail officially opened in October 2015, it has yet to become well known and much used, but that is likely to change once the word gets out about its easy accessibility and walkability. Although you may not meet another person along the trail, this doesn’t mean it’s unsafe. Because it is so well cared for and intermittently passes through an upscale apartment complex, an up-and-coming mill village, and a hospital’s campus, you never feel too far away from public view. So enjoy the stretches of solitude and take comfort in knowing southern hospitality is within easy reach.
Finally, take note of the international use of cairns or small carefully stacked piles of stones that you are likely to find on the trail. In a natural and undisturbing way, they are meant to say, “I was here.” Look around to find a few stones of your own, and leave a cairn behind. Let those who follow you know that you, too, have enjoyed the Drayton Mills Trail in Spartanburg, SC.
By Steve Wong