Ashley River park open for suggestions
A quiet woods filled with hickory, beech, Southern Red Oak, spruce pine and loblolly pine; a murmuring river inviting contemplation; deer tracks indicating life other than human hiding amongst the understory palms; a wide-open lake to picnic beside: these were the scenes found by members of the conservation and parks commissions as they walked the more than 80-acre property along the Ashley River that could eventually link to Richard Rosebrock Park.
Commissioners toured the site Thursday to get a feel for the property and give their ideas for appropriate activities there.
The public will get its turn March 9, when the site will be open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
“It’s prettier than I ever imagined,” said Mac Baughman of the conservation commission.
The conservation commission and parks commission have sometimes been at odds over the use of the $5 million bond money approved by voters in November 2010.
The conservation commission gave its blessing to the purchase of this land but asked for three conditions: that the county would place a conservation easement on the land, that a 300-foot wooded buffer from the riverfront be maintained and that 50 percent of revenue from the park be returned to conservation projects.
Whether the county will follow through on those requests remains to be seen.
It all boils down to money.
That the land is serenely beautiful is unquestionable. Nor is there a question that people would use the property – as evidenced by illegal campers and an illegal deer stand already making use of the land.
But for the county to maintain trails, a presence in the park to deter vandals, and an administration that would track camping or pavilion rentals, it needs operating funds.
Councilman Jay Byars, who chairs the parks commission, envisions a model similar to Charleston County’s in which the park has gated access and a nominal fee is charged for entrance.
Franchise fees – currently dedicated to paying off the Pine Trace acquisition – could pay some operating costs, but there’s a limit to how much franchise fees could accomplish, Byars said.
It could be time to ask voters to approve a dedicated two mills to fund park operations, he said.
Those on the tour agreed the Ashley River site should stay as natural as possible. And residents who have been skeptical of the county’s land rush in the past couple of years might change their minds when they actually see the sites, some said.
In addition to the Ashley River site, the county purchased Pine Trace, opened Rosebrock Park, developed plans for the St. George courthouse park and purchased two conservation easements in the Four Hole Swamp.
For the Ashley River property, kayaking launch sites, a playground beneath the trees, a pavilion by the lake, rustic camping and fishing have been mentioned as possible uses.
The property is accessible via Bacons Bridge Road, directly north of the Ashley River. Some of the land will be lost to the Bacons Bridge Road widening, but even with the road already there the land is quiet and peaceful.
The road construction does have an added benefit for parkgoers, however. There is a plan to build a footbridge beneath the road so people could get from Rosebrock Park to the Ashley River park without risking their lives on Bacons Bridge Road.
That middle ground could also serve as a centralized spot from which to launch kayaks.
Any and all ideas are welcome at the public walk-through day, during which the public will be able to see what already exists at the park and talk to commissioners about the proposed ideas they like – and don’t like.
Because of the existing infrastructure and the low-key plans thus far, the park could be open by the end of the year.