Cities embrace, enhance their blueways

​From moving sewer lines to adding trails, South Carolina cities and towns are recognizing — and maximizing — the appeal of their rivers.

Savannah River
Savannah River/North Augusta

That means taking any number of steps, such as adding a boat launch, rerouting infrastructure or securing an easement to open up public access and attract residents and visitors.

The City of North Augusta has worked for years to take advantage of the Savannah River. In the 1990s, the city did a study on riverfront development and adopted the tag line "South Carolina's Riverfront," according to Lark Jones, who retired as the city's mayor this month.

In the mid-1990s, a private developer built a golf club and riverfront homes, which sold for up to $1 million. This was the catalyst that began to bring people into North Augusta and cultivate an identity for the city as something other than a bedroom community of Augusta, Georgia, which sits across the river, Jones said.

As developments grew, the city retained access to the riverfront because city leaders believed public access would be key for future successful development.

"The philosophy of the city has always been to provide public access to the river," Jones said. "It's part of the public realm that our residents own. When we develop these things, we want the residents to feel ownership."

The city had a greenway from a rails-to-trails project and then added a 1-mile spur to the riverfront. The spur circles the Brick Pond Park, which is a 40-acre restored wetland, water treatment system and public nature park.

Significant developments continue at the riverfront. Project Jackson is a mixed-used development that includes a new minor league ballpark for the Augusta GreenJackets. A hotel, restaurants, shops, homes and condominiums are all underway near the riverfront.

Other towns are investing in their riverfronts, as well. The Town of Ware Shoals succeeded in having its project to reroute a 40-year-old sewer line along the Saluda River included on the Greenwood County Penny Sales Tax Commission's list of projects funded by the tax, which voters approved in 2016.

Saluda River, Ware Shoals
Saluda River/Ware Shoals

This project addresses the dangers of possible pollution and contamination that come from having waste running through sewage pipes along the river, said Town Administrator Heather Fields.

In addition, the town is working to improve Pitts Park, which lies along the shoals and offers access to the river. Fields said the town would like to clean up the park, add trash cans and restrooms, and make it handicapped accessible.

The river is part of the Heritage Corridor, and signage there points to the kayak launch and access to fishing.

"On any given day, we have hundreds of people in the park," she said.

Reaching an agreement
Scores of people visit the Pacolet River Paddling Trail, and the Town of Pacolet has been working on other improvements to draw visitors to the riverfront area, according to Mayor Michael Meissner.

"Providing public access to the river gives community members and individuals something to do," Meissner said.

For years, there was no public access to the river, due in part to industrial sites located there. The town reached an easement agreement with Lockhart Power, which provides hydropower along the river, to create trails and allow public access to the water, Meissner said.

The town has other projects in the works, including a new traffic circle in front of Pacolet Town Hall, and improvements, such as benches, to the park area and river walk. An old building known as the Cloth Room, which is a remnant of the textile mill, is undergoing renovations to become a community events center that will spur revitalization efforts by the river. Meissner said eventually they hope to expand the trails, add a bridge, increase signage and expand a fishing pier.

'Get connected to nature'
The Town of Calhoun Falls, located in the Savannah River Basin, provides numerous recreational activities for residents and visitors. Calhoun Falls State Park and the Blue Hole Recreation Area offer boat ramps, playgrounds, picnic areas, and canoeing and kayak areas.

The West Carolina Pavilion on Lake Russell hosts musical and outdoor events, said David Garner, Calhoun Falls town administrator. The town works closely with the Calhoun Falls Chamber of Commerce and the Lake Russell Recreation and Tourism Coalition to plan and organize events and draw people to the area, he said.

In the future, Garner said they hope to establish a rails-to-trails project accessible from downtown Calhoun Falls, which would be a regional recreational trail linking the counties of Abbeville and McCormick.

The activities around Lake Russell and the Savannah River Basin offer an oasis from the fast pace of daily life. When cities embrace and enhance the rivers and waterways that make them unique, they can increase economic development while providing healthy spaces for residents to enjoy the outdoors.

"We want to get people disconnected from technology for a while and get connected to nature," Garner said.