Wonders’ Way is a 12′ wide bicycle-pedestrian path on the south side of the Arthur Ravenel, Jr. Bridge between Charleston and Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina. The beautiful path is open for anyone to walk, jog, or bike across and offers splendid views of Charleston Harbor and Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum. The path is easy to access, exciting to walk, but this is more than just a way to get around Charleston. It is a memorial to a man killed during a vehicle vs. bicyclist collision.
Garrett Wonders was a sophomore at Ohio State University when he became interested in the cycling club to improve his skills during triathlons. By the time he completed his master’s degree in 2001, he had advanced to the Collegiate Cycling Nationals as an individual. Wonders joined the United States Navy and soon moved to Charleston, South Carolina as an ensign, teaching officer classes at the Nuclear Power Training Command. After moving to Charleston, he applied to become a member of the Armed Forces Elite Cycling Team. After his acceptance he began competing extensively throughout the Southeast Region and around the world. In 2004 he was selected as one of two military personnel to compete at the Olympic Trials in California. He began training as a solo bicyclist, but a few months later he was struck and killed by a vehicle during a bicycle run.
In 1979 the existing truss bridges that spanned the Cooper River between Charleston and Mt. Pleasant was certified functionally obsolete. While the bridges were still capable of carrying loads up to 10 tons per vehicle, they were extremely narrow, dangerous at times, and did not provide enough clearance for large shipping vessels to maneuver further north along the Cooper and Wando Rivers. Despite this, it took over 20 years before a replacement was built.
It was not until 1995 when the Grace Bridge scored a 4 out of 100 during a safety an integrity inspection that serious action finally formed to build a replacement. Retired U.S. Congressman Arthur Ravenel, Jr. ran for a seat on the South Carolina Senate and won. After his election, he helped establish the South Carolina Infrastructure Bank and worked to secure funding to build a new bridge that would be safe, modern, and allow any size of ship to pass underneath.
Construction began in 2001 and lasted nearly five years. Once completed, the Arthur Ravenel, Jr. Bridge would span 2.5 miles between the two cities straddling the Cooper River and Charleston Harbor. During this construction process, the incident with Garrett Wonders brought about a need for a shared pedestrian-bicycle path on the bridge. A grass roots movement by local supporters succeeded with the addition of a 12′ path on the south side of the bridge separated from traffic by a concrete wall. The path was named Wonders’ Way after Garrett Wonders.
Wonders’ Way is accessible from both ends of the bridge, but it is easier to park in Mt. Pleasant at the Visitor Center. The Visitor Center is located almost directly beside the Arthur Ravenel, Jr. Bridge and includes several parking areas, a fishing pier, and restrooms. You will have to pay to park here, but then you can be on the bridge in just a few minutes from a short access path. It’s a safe place to leave your vehicle while walking or jogging across the bridge. You can also park at the nearby gas station at the intersection of Coleman Blvd. and Patriots Point Road. Parking here is limited, however.
You can also access Wonders’ Way from the Charleston end of the bridge, but parking is more difficult. On that end Wonders’ Way comes out on East Bay Street and Cooper Street, but no parking lot is available at that location. Your best bet is to park at nearby Martins Park or head down East Bay Street to a gas station. Either way, you’ll have a 2-4 block walk to get back to the beginning of Wonders’ Way.
If you begin a hike from the Mt. Pleasant Visitor Center along Wonders’ Way, you will immediately find yourself climbing the long grade of the bridge toward the first diamond-shaped pylon. If you’re just out for a walk this climb is fairly easy (it sure doesn’t compare to climbing 300′ elevation on the Appalachian Trail) and should take you about 30-40 minutes to reach the first pylon. At each of the pylons, Wonders’ Way juts out a bit to get around the concrete pylon, the path widens a few extra feet, and you will find benches to give you a rest. These observation decks of sorts provide an amazing view of Patriots Point, Charleston Harbor, and downtown Charleston. From this vantage point you can see loads of commercial and private boat traffic, you will have a good view of the Carnival cruise ship when it is docked at the historic downtown waterfront, and you can even see as far as Castle Pinckney and Fort Sumter.
If you wanted to walk the entire length of the bridge, you’ll find yourself completing a 5-mile journey there and back. It’s a lofty goal, one which many people completely daily. At almost any point in time you will find a dozen joggers, bicyclists, and hikers using Wonders’ Way. Some are out to better their health, others (like myself) are there for a beautiful view. It’s certainly a place you need to visit while in Charleston. After all, with the 186′ height of the bridge over the water, it’s just about the highest point in the entire city.
If you would like to see more photos of Charleston, South Carolina, please visit my website at http://photography.southeasterntraveler.com/South-Carolina/Charleston/