Past, Present and Future of the Local Waterways

Mike Dawson

Mike Dawson

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The River Alliance has been splashing around in the Midland's rivers since 1995. The idea to create an organization to unlock the potential was born on the banks of the Saluda just below the now spectacular Riverbanks Botanical Gardens. The occasion was a Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce Intra-City visit and the task was to get a variety of the midlands leaders out of their buses and down to the water. Some who had lived here all their lives had never focused on the 90 miles of river we are lucky to have in the Broad, Saluda and Congaree Rivers. The river and the natural beauty surrounding the Mill Race Rapids worked their magic. The process to see what our rivers could be started there on the Saluda.

One of the first hurdles was invisible, the challenge of regional cooperation. Without regard for political boundaries, the rivers run through the heart of the metropolitan area. It is fair to say that our three downtown cities looked away from the water not toward it and each other. The founding intent of the Alliance was to help with a collective regional vision and to keep working toward regional goals. The blinding flash of insight was the rivers have two banks and that by working collectively we could open up the rivers' potential.

How to plan was a key next step. Since 1905, there have been library shelves full of unimplemented and unresourced top down plans. The choice was community based planning with the intent of soliciting the dreams of those who live, work, and study here. Thousands of ideas were floated and focused with the help of a planning team, led by Ozzie Nagler. The clear call was for us to create quality public access to the rivers while protecting their environmental quality. At the same time we were to use the rivers to stimulate our three "downtowns" into a 24 hour urban center where people could live, work, and play. These dreams are becoming reality.

The demand for access translated into our key projects: the Congaree National Park Visitor's Center; Broad River Access; the 12,000 Year History Park on Congaree Creek, and the Three Rivers Greenway. The Greenway is the key to public access. It is a publicly owned riverside park that runs along the urban rivers, rests lightly on the land, and connects into existing and potential residential neighborhoods. It is an asset for the region that belongs to the region.

If you haven't been to the National Park, join the 150,000 or so a year who go. If you haven't been to the completed sections of the Three Rivers Greenway, hit it on a sunny weekend day and see if our counts of 350-400 folks per hour are accurate. Download a map from the www.riveralliance.org web site or look in the front of the ATT Yellow pages. I guarantee you will like what you find and feel better about the place you live.

There is more to do. The economic downturn slowed urban residential infill, but the demand to live near the rivers and the Greenway is there. The Greenway plan highlighted the contiguous property development potential and this will continue to add life and grow the tax base.  As we work as a region, the greenway will fill in and we will see extensions up the urban streams, a blue and green network, and tax base development off these extensions. The University of South Carolina's commitment to the downtown and to the river access is shown in their master plan. As it unfolds it will open key sections of Greenway. Eventually you will be able to go from the USC campus to the museum complex and from the museums to the Zoo and from the Zoo to Lake Murray. Alternately you can cross the river and go to Congaree Creek and to the new SCANA and Amazon developments. The rivers will be woven into the fabric of life in the Midlands and become part of the daily experience of all who choose to live here. Get to the rivers and feel it for yourself.

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