By Stan Welch
A collection of elected officials, county staff, outdoor enthusiasts and community planners gathered at the Williamston Municipal Center last Thursday to hear about future plans for the establishment and expansion of a web of recreational trails and waterways.
The most likely source for funding is the Recreational Trail Program (RTP) which has only $1 million available to fund projects proposed all over the state. “This is a very competitive grant program, so our application for the various projects need to be well-focused and timely,” said county planning staffer and grants writer Steve Newton.
Community planner and outdoors enthusiast Blake Sanders gave a presentation on a proposed greenways project called” A Trail Springs Forth”. The program would both create and combine existing trails and sidewalks in the Williamston area to produce a greenway comprised of walking and biking trails, community gardens, and other hiking resources. Part of the purpose would also be to preserve various local habitats.
Sanders said that $80,000 in grant funds is being sought. He pointed out the economic, environmental and health benefits of such a program. He also pointed out that joining the area’s three towns with such a network would allow them to share other opportunities.
County recreation director Matt Schell spoke to the crowd of approximately forty people about the Saluda River Blueway, a forty eight mile long stretch of the river which is divided by the old system of dams that once powered the area’s textile mills, into six sections.
The longest section, at 15.5 miles, is the first, running from the Saluda Lake Dam to the Piedmont Dam, with an access point at the Saluda River Grill. The next stretch runs 6.5 miles to the Pelzer dam and passes the Timmerman Jr. Boat Ramp and ADA fishing dock, recently constructed by a physically challenged Scout as his Eagle Scout project. The dock is fully compliant with the American Disabilities Act (ADA). That connection to the ADA is a thread that runs throughout the proposed Blueway program.
The access point at Dolly Cooper Park near Powdersville contains the first ADA approved kayak launch built in South Carolina. It allows total access to the river, either putting in or taking out.
The conscious effort to provide ADA approved facilities, and thereby fulfill the program’s mission of Access For All, also makes federal funding easier to obtain. The final blueway proposal calls for eleven ADA sites along the way, with four launch sites, five portages and three boat ramps.
From the Pelzer dam, it is 2.5 miles to the Pelzer Mills dam, and then another two miles to the dam at the Lee Steam Station. A seven mile run to the Holliday dam on the other side of Belton follows. The last leg, and the most challenging, is the 14 miles run to the Ware Shoals dam.
Schell and the county are seeking public input and cooperation. As Williamston Mayor Mack Durham said, “We need to have a plan in place when the funding becomes available.