Leisure paths paved with gold

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Hilton Head Island’s devotion to cycling pays off with prestigious national designation.

As if Hilton Head Island didn’t have enough to be proud of.

Last month, the League of American Bicyclists added another feather to the multitude that adorn Hilton Head’s hat by selecting the island as a gold-level Bicycle Friendly Community. This isn’t just some small point of civic pride to place on a website or in a tourism brochure – this is a national recognition, at the highest level, of Hilton Head Island’s devotion to making the world a more bike-friendly place, one path at a time.

Hilton Head is leading the Southeast in a growing movement that knows the value of working up an awesome sweat at 14 mph. It joins an elite group of the top 25 cycling communities across the country.

The honor is the result of hard work and dedication from a tireless group of volunteers and the community that put the wind at their backs with every mile. This is the joint effort of our town’s civic and community leaders, coming together to put us on the map.

This recognition is something that all area residents, whether we ride these paths or not, can get behind and be immensely proud of.

“The entire community, from the Town of Hilton Head Island to the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce to a whole legion of local advocates, showed real unity in making this distinction happen,” said local cycling advocate Frank Babel.

The honor was not granted on the strength of the island’s 60 miles of picturesque pathways alone, although that certainly didn’t hurt. Programs likes the Island Ambassador program, which sends helpful locals out along our miles of pathways dispensing everything from directions to helpful reminders of the rules of the road, helped set us apart. This national recognition was a product of numerous safety improvements, a score of informational kiosks, special events like Chamber Bike & Dine Week, and the way these projects helped unite our community as we rallied behind a bike-friendly ethos.

Even South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley shared in the kudos, saying in a video statement, “We were thrilled to hear that Hilton Head Island was named one of the top 25 bicycle communities in the United States. The fact that it’s the only gold community in the Southeast makes us very proud.


And if this was big enough to capture the governor’s attention, you can bet the excitement is overflowing among the community leaders who made it happen
“This distinction is something the entire community can take as a point of pride,” said Hilton Head Island Mayor David Bennett. “After all, this is something that we as a community came together in support of. To see those efforts recognized with such a high distinction is truly rewarding.”

So what does our town’s newly minted gold status mean? It means that our community has been recognized at one of the highest national levels by a program dedicated to, “revolutionizing the way communities evaluate their quality of life, sustainability and transportation networks, while allowing them to benchmark their progress toward improving their bicycle friendliness,” according to the League of American Bicyclists.

“We expect a high standard from gold and higher-level communities, and Hilton Head Island has met all of those expectations, so congratulations,” said Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists.

Our emergence as one of the country’s pre-eminent cycling towns makes perfect sense, given how the island’s culture was built on a philosophy of embracing nature on its own terms, and at its own speed. The same philosophy that saw Charles Fraser building leisure paths into his master plan for Sea Pines finds a natural evolution in today’s pedal-forward Hilton Head Island.

“Active travel is a growing tourism sector,” said Bill Miles, president and CEO of the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce. “And to be able to go out and tell those seeking the great outdoors that our island has been recognized on the national stage in this way elevates our profile tremendously.”

For a town long ago defined by segmented communities tucked behind gates, these paths have not only physically united us as a hometown, they’ve also united us a community dedicated to sustainability, responsible development and just enjoying the beauty of Hilton Head Island’s gorgeous scenery as seen from two wheels.
And now, they’ve brought us gold.

“Why I Ride”

1)    Bennett – “I ride for the relaxation and to see our Island from a different perspective.”

2)    Miles – “It’s such a great way to take in the beauty of the Lowcountry. The view from the bike is unlike any other. It clears my head and reminds me why I love living on Hilton Head Island.”

3)    Babel – “I ride because of the freedom it gives me; to exercise, to see people and places, to be with friends, to help others and to enjoy life. “

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