By David Meade
Williamston Mayor Mack Durham has high hopes and great expectations about the direction the Town of Williamston is taking. Under his leadership, and with the help and support of the current town council and others in the community, the area has an opportunity to be shaped into a thriving community that people, and businesses, will want to be a part of.
The Williamston Municipal Center, Mineral Spring Park and surrounding recreational areas provide a base to promote the history of the town while also providing learning opportunities and a healthy lifestyle. The acquisition of the National Guard Armory has opened up possibilities that are being developed.
The Town is readying to start up the Main St. SC Program and has hired an enthusiastic coordinator.
Other programs and initiatives begun during Durham’s first year in office are also beginning to bear fruit.
During an interview this week, Mayor Durham said in addition to the day to day operations of the town, there are five primary areas he is focusing on.
They are the Main St. Program, Park Expansion/Trails, Depot Restoration/Farmers Market, the Armory/Arts Center and engaging the community.
Main St. SC
The Town recently signed on to a three year committment with the Main St. SC program offered through the Municipal Association of South Carolina.
The program is administered with professional input and support from the Municipal Association and is designed to provide residents, business owners and local officials with the knowledge, skills, tools and organizational structure necessary to revitalize downtown areas and neighborhood commercial districts.
“If we get traction there, the Main St. program will fuel a lot of other initiatives in town,” Durham said.
A big part of implementing the new program is the hiring of a coordinator. “Caroline Alex will bring a lot of enthusiasm and professionalism to the position,” the mayor said.
The program will be managed by the town and offices will be located in town hall. Alex will officially start the position on Dec. 2.
The Town of Williamston has applied for a SCPRT Recreational Trails Program (RTP)grant which Mayor Durham is very optimistic about receiving.
“If funding is approved, the grant will be instrumental to begin the first section of a community trails system,” he said.
The funding would go toward a 10 ft. wide asphalt walking/biking trail which will begin at the Veterans Park bridge, connect with the depot/soccer field area and proceed along the town’s sewer outfall line to where it crosses Minor St. about midway between the park and Palmetto Middle School.
While there is no official master plan for a park expansion or trails system, there are “concept” drawings and plans which have been provided by professional trail designer Blake Sanders.
The plans reflect the mayor’s vision of a proposed trail system beginning in the park area and extending to the schools and on to West Pelzer and Pelzer.
“We want to create connectivity within our community,” Durham said.
The possibility of connecting with the schools provides another opportunity to partner with the Safe Routes to School project which funds sidewalks and other projects to encourage walking, the mayor said.
The town is also looking into providing educational opportunities within the park.
One of those is a proposed Born to Learn trail project which the town is considering.
The project, sponsored by Leadership Anderson and the United Way, provides an interactive play and learning trail which includes ten activity stations where parents and caregivers can interact with young children for fun learning opportunities.
Durham said the town has also applied for an Elevate Upstate grant of $5000 through the Ten at the Top program.
The funding if approved could go toward an Arts and History Trail.
The trail project features signage with local history along a designated trail.
In addition to connecting the schools to the downtown area, the proposed trail system can be expanded (in sections) to connect with what is called the Blue Trail on the Saluda River.
Anderson County Parks and Recreation Department is working to establish a “Blue Trail” system along the Saluda River which includes put in and take out points and other mapped designations for river users.
The proposed blue trail extends from Pickens County to Ware Shoals.
“We hope to connect the communities and the Saluda River Blue Trail system,” Durham said.
Durham said the proposed expanded vision of a interconnected trail system is currently just “in the discussion stage.”
The town is planning to convert the armory building into a cultural arts center.
Mayor Durham said he is drawing on resources and talents of local artists and others to establish an Arts Center and related programs.
The program has already garnered a lot of support in the local community. There have been several cleanup and painting workdays at the facility, with local students and others helping out.
Durham said the Farmers Market that was implemented this year “was real successful” and will remain as one of the town’s main initiatives.
He said the program promotes locally grown foods, small growers and other local providers.
According to Durham, the depot could be used in conjunction with the farmers market to provide a store where locally grown (or made) items could be sold.
With a stage added to the back side, it could become a place for entertainment, with visitors sitting across the creek on a sloped grassy area adjacent to the fire department.
According to Durham, the town has assets that are not being used. The depot and the armory are two of those.
“We want to take assets that are a liability that require funding to maintain, and make assets out of our liabilities,” he said.
The old cafeteria room of the Municipal Center is another example.
The cafeteria room, which was a junk/storage area, has been cleaned out and is now being used by a resident artist, Joel Yates. Yates has provided artwork that is displayed in the Municipal Center.
Durham said another of his priorities is to engage the community.
One way the town is doing this is through a program called the Community Action Network, which is a coordinated effort to reach out to different gorups and people in the community.
The initiative is being coordinated and headed by the town’s Police Chief Tony Taylor and others including Fire Chief Steve Ellison and EMS Chief Joe Barr.
The network has sponsored a non-violence event, helped plan and organize a Palmetto High alumni reunion and is holding a Festival of Unity for the Hispanic community this Saturday.
The first responders also recently held a joint school intruder/shooter training exercise.
Durham said he also plans to use the town’s appointed committees for input on projects and other issues that come up. Two of those are the Planning Commission and the Park (and Recreation) Committee.
Durham said he wants the town’s planning commission to be more functional and to be involved in any discussions related to the park and any plans for the core commercial area of downtown.