The Search for Bluffton’s Soul

By Johnboy Jones

“I just read a peer reviewed article, approved through blind review by the author’s sister, that you can tell the essence of a person’s soul through their last 3 Google searches.

Based on this new knowledge I have acquired, I invite you to share with me your last 3 Google searches, and I will tell you who you really are at your inner core”

This was a post on Facebook from my old college roommate. And ironically, the most popular search around the world is “facebook,” which is even funnier given that you could just as easily type into a URL bar. “google” and “youtube” are also popular and likewise amusing.

But this got me thinking  – What are people in Bluffton Googling? Is it mundane things like Walmart, Weather and Wordle? Or does Bluffton have a unique Soul?

As a side note, I tried mine finding that I had turned that part of Google off to which I responded to my college roommate “No Soul Found.”


Blufftonian’s Top Google Searches:

“How can I prove bike paths are polluting the May River?”

These folks obviously live in the Alljoy area where they have been fighting the installation of bike paths for over 20 years. (*I recently saw this again as a Facebook discussion  – but I remember it from way back ) And it’s good for water-quality that in that part of the river by the Calibogue Sound the tidal flush is so large (salinity kills bacteria) that the amount of pavement and dirty run-off isn’t as much of an issue as it is in the Buckwalter Area – which directs stormwater run-off into the headwaters via Stoney and Rose Dhu creeks.

Immediately after things started being developed on Buckwalter oysters in the headwaters became inedible. The people in Alljoy know this as most of them are “been heres” who just want to be left alone – and who could blame them? Certainly not me … but, I am also a bicycle interloper who rides everywhere there is no gate – which gets me the occasional dirty look despite the fact that over the past 35 years I have replaced 50% of my blood with cooking oil and grits. I guess the Alljoy folks will have to explain the real reason they don’t want bike paths.

The next most popular search is:

“Restaurants near me” —  This doesn’t make us unique until you look into the nature of local eats. When my daughter was little Nickle Pumpers was about the only thing in Bluffton. There was also the old Piggly Wiggly but not much else. We used to take Sunday Afternoon trips to the Savannah Mall and then go out to eat. Nowadays,  we have a ton of options – which is awesome. I sometimes call this era of Bluffton’s History – “Bluffton’s Schmaltyz Renaissance.” Things are pretty good right now – especially restaurants – but at the same time a way of life is definitely being lost. There just aren’t that many places that have grown as fast as Bluffton and it’s a shock to the culture – and I think we all know what the traffic is going to look like here in 5 years.

I remember volunteering with the Rotary Club at Mayfest making french fries in their food truck and seeing that the woman from Eggcentricity had a urinal strapped to the electrical pole on the corner … and the laminated 8.5″ x 11″ message in the urinal in bright blue and green lettering was “Yankee Drinking Fountain.” — And I had been here long enough to know that the proper response to something like this is “Bless your heart” although I like the NY version better. But it just goes to show, that even on the day Blufftonians should be rolling out the red carpet – there’s some bitterness there – even if they really aren’t sure why.

Which brings us to the all-revealing third in the series of top 3 Google searches that make up Bluffton’s soul …  “What is a Blufftonian?”

The existential search for Bluffton’s soul continues –  and will continue as long as our growth is exponential. We get new neighbors everyday, and I for one welcome them. Where I came from the weather sucked, but the schools were great and the graduation rate was 93%. The taxes were high, but you got something for your money. The Public Works Department did an awesome job and there was very little crime. The Police Department didn’t seem like it was in a  constant state of limbo like it does here. There were tons of parks and community pools and it was safe to ride your bike on the street. I guess Bluffton’s soul is now part Yankee. I don’t care if taxes go up as long as I finally get something substantial for my money.

And I think, like everywhere the soul of a place is found in the collective goodness of the community. That’s a little bit hard to find here sometimes but there are tons of great folks doing what they can to make Bluffton just a little bit better. And I for one, hope they succeed more in the future than they did in the past.

May River Science Is Undeniable!

The science is easy to understand and long-proven.

“The clearing of land for sprawling suburban development is directly linked to the impaired waterways because without enough natural land cover left intact to serve its filtering function, stormwater carries sediment and pollutants across impervious surfaces and directly into the rivers.” (Schueller & Holland, 2000).

“With a few exceptions, the settlement pattern south of the Broad River has been comprised of conventional suburban sprawl: single-use, single-family detached subdivisions, strip-commercial, and auto-dominated thoroughfares which brings with it a high percentage of impervious surface.” (Schueller & Holland, 2000).

If the greater Bluffton area is developed according to the approvals as they currently exist, impervious surface will exceed 20% in the May River watershed and edible May River oysters will be a thing of the past.” (Coastal Conservation League)

We are already over 10% and we add to the problem nearly every day. We can continue to grow, but we must conform to the simple science above.

“Over the past (two) decade(s), various stormwater management techniques have been employed in an attempt to mitigate the impacts of stormwater runoff caused by impervious surface without altering the conventional suburban settlement pattern. These techniques include, but are not limited to: stormwater management ordinances, Best Management Practices, devices at the end of outfalls, and maintenance and repair of stormwater retention ponds. However, the current inventory of on-site safeguards does not allow us to ignore the ten-percent rule. The only aquatic systems that will retain the full range of species and ecological functions will be those where less than ten percent of the watershed is impervious.” (Schueller & Holland, 2000)

In The Beginning

In the beginning there was Sun City Hilton Head (located nowhere near Hilton Head Island). Sun City made of a lot of people very angry and was largely considered a bad idea. And in the later parts of the 1900’s Beaufort County had a lot of ideas – most of them bad. (sans the comp plan that the Town of Bluffton decimated, but that’s a story for another day).

And in that moment, where the Town of Bluffton made its revenue by way of an illegal speed-trap and kickbacks thereof from said “speeding tickets that never happened”, we devised a plan – a plan of men … and mice … and manifest destiny. Bluffton’s brain-trust called to action a new committee – the Development Agreement Negotiating Committee or DANC for short. This great new committee entrusted within itself the ability to negotiate agreements with developers as it tried to control the destiny of greater Bluffton. With these new magical powers and the spin-doctoring marketing-genius of folks who made pottery and punch cards they negotiated – and won a few, but mostly lost. The odds were not in their favor.

Bluffton’s best came to meetings with developers with reams of paper and plans – and models even. Developers sent guys who showed up with a pen – as the guys needed to entertain themselves twirling said pen (#TrueStory) as they pushed over the bumpkins not paying for things like roads and schools.

(*sidenote – paying for schools was the responsibility of the county so it didn’t seem to bother Bluffton folks too much that we didn’t plan well for the schools we would need,  and Beaufort County repaid the favor by building developments in the intended pathways of major thoroughfares – so we are still working thru those issues. (someday we’ll tell you the story of the crooked parkway – but we digress)

Back then South Carolina was on the very wrong end of many lists – income, maternal health, diabetes, education and so on – and since then we have moved up most of those lists at least a spot or 3. Hey, it’s South Carolina – Thank God for Mississippi.

Bluffton’s prospects were extremely bright – we just didn’t kinda get it as we set out to make … jobs – and to make sure the efffed up county didn’t efff things up before we could eff things up.

We swore we did it to save the May River – so that was one of the first things to go to fecal coli form.

And as we went we annexed everything we could,  and it looked for a minute like our manifest destiny might take us all the way to the Broad River … but, alas, May River Pollution turned public opinion against us – so we got stopped. Nothing like a good annexation – oh well.

We knew full well that commercial was profitable (Annex the Kroegar, Annex the Kroegar – that’s magic), rich neighborhoods weren’t too bad (let’s point the crooked parkway right at Hampton Hall) and crap-box cookie-cutter neighborhoods on 1/4 acre lots lost money – so we built lots of those. But, nice people live there – so all good. Welcome to Bluffton my good neghibors.

Today, Bluffton is all that it can be as we make ready to become like Nassau County Long Island – Home of lots of little overpriced house, some nice homes, beautiful nature kinda-destroyed and the impending all-encompassing crippling fear that sometime today I may have to take a left turn where there is no streetlight.

It could be worse.

Interview With a Former Greater Bluffton Pathways Board Member

Blufftonian: What was Greater Bluffton Pathways?

Buzz McBike: The Mission Statement was to safely connect people and places in Greater Bluffton with pathways and walkways.

Blufftonian: Did it succeed?

Buzz McBike: Between 2005 and 2009 quite a bit was accomplished working with Beaufort County. That is when the pathways on Bluffton Parkway and Buckwalter  Parkway were installed. We also helped facilitate the pathways around McCracken Circle and the Beaufort County Rail Trail. The pathway at New Riverside was installed by the developer and is probably the Town of Bluffton’s only significant installation.

Blufftonian: What’s the difference between a sidewalk and a pathway?

Buzz McBike: What we were looking for was the installation of 10′ to 12′ pathways suitable for walking and biking. A sidewalk will not accommodate both at once. I will offer a little more below.

Blufftonian: Do you consider the organization a success?

Buzz McBike: Yes and No. I don’t think you can consider Bluffton a walk / bike friendly community. The pathways along the parkways aren’t much fun and they are a bit on the dangerous side. We never really connected Savannah to Old Town and Old Town to Hilton Head, which would have been ideal, but we did accomplish a few things as mentioned above.

Blufftonian: Is it free to ride into Palmetto Bluff?

Buzz McBike: I don’t think it is. It was originally, but that changed somewhere along the lines. Too bad. It’s a nice place to ride. New Riverside is a pretty good riding path as most of it is away from the road; unlike the parkways. But you have to navigate the traffic circle to connect to anything. On the bright side, the further you get from Old Town the more polite the drivers are, so crossing the traffic circle is doable. Plus, it’s a bigger circle which gives pedestrians and bikers a greater certainty of the situation as they try to cross. The little circle at RTE 46 and Bluffton Parkway is dangerious for bikers and pedestrians.

Blufftonian: What’s your best recommendation to Blufftonians who want to ride a bike?

Buzz McBike: Put your bike on a bike rack and drive to Hilton Head. It’s pretty close and they have 100+ miles of pathways and 14 miles beaches that are rideable (except at high tide). My wife and I rode 4000 miles on the beach in one year not too long ago, and it was awesome. And, the pathways over there go everywhere. Please make sure you recognize for safety’s-sake that cars always have the right-of-way on Hilton Head Island. That being said, It’s pretty fantastic!

Types of Pathways

Off Road Multi-Use Paths, Leisure Trails and Rail Trails are the same type of bike facility.    Hilton Head Island has 35 public miles of this type of pathway.  Great for families, joggers, walkers, rollerbladers, wheelchairs, baby strollers.  Not suitable for some commuters and cyclists who want a straight fast route and who bike for exercise.  Width (8’ vs 14’), surface quality and maintenance of trail will determine how many people will use these trails on a regular basis.  Generally, the wider, the better, though ten feet wide is the current recommended standard. Narrower pathways create conflict between pedestrians and cyclists.  Concrete or asphalt surface is preferred by most people.

Sidewalks – 5 ft. width is recommended by AASHTO[1]  Cyclists should not ride on sidewalks (with the exception of small children)

Shared Roadways – Bicyclists are legally able to use all roadways, but today many connector roads are seen as unsafe because of traffic speed or traffic volume. All of the following pathways are less expensive than Off Road Multi-Use Paths and each serves a particular purpose.  Many adult cyclists as well as motorists can be comfortable “Sharing the Road.”

Bike Routes on Quiet Roads – Many rural roads in Jasper, Colleton and Hampton Counties have beautiful vistas with low traffic volume.  Bluffton, Beaufort, Port Royal, Yemassee have Historic Districts which are very conducive for exploring by bike. Other than maps and website posting to show suggested routes, no additional funding is necessary.

Wide Curb Lanes – Main Streets such as Paris Ave. in the town of Port Royal has a low volume of traffic and 35 mph or less speed limit with 14’-16’ wide travel lanes.  Cyclists usually feel they have plenty of room to ride comfortably and safely.  When parking is added along these streets, safety diminishes somewhat for the cyclist.

Paved Shoulders   – SC DOT is adding these to both sides of the road along parts of Rt. 170, Rt. 21 and Rt. 46. Additional shoulder width is recommended on heavily traveled and high-speed roads and those carrying large numbers of trucks and RV’s.

4 foot minimum when no curb is present.

5 foot minimum against curb, parking, or guardrail

6 feet recommended for ultimate comfort and safety[2]

Bike Lanes –  Bike lanes carry bike traffic in the same direction as adjacent motor vehicle traffic and should be placed on the right side of the street in each direction of travel.  Most bike lanes are 5-6 feet wide. Bike lanes define and identify bicycling locations. These can be incorporated into a roadway when it is desirable to set aside available road space for preferential use by bicyclists and motorists, and to provide for more predictable movements by each.  Bike lane markings (stencil of cyclist with arrow showing direction of travel) can increase a cyclist’s confidence in motorists not straying into their path of travel. Tinting the bike lane is helpful.  See AASHTO Manual for additional guidelines.

Visit the web archive of the Greater Bluffton Pathways Group