Groundbreaking ushers in new gateway to the rivers

Transportation Program launches Three Rivers Greenway Extension

Ceremonial shovels tossed the damp, red clay in a symbolic gesture of what was about to begin – a long awaited project that will grant Columbia residents and visitors a way to enjoy the scenic lower Saluda River.

A 3-mile path with an 8-foot-wide concrete walking and bicycle trail and boardwalks along the Saluda River will be available to residents and visitors in about a year following completion of phase 1 of the Three Rivers Greenway Extension.

The walkway – made possible through the Richland County Transportation Program – will go around the rapids and continue past Riverbanks Zoo to the confluence of the Saluda and Broad rivers.

The groundbreaking ceremony on Monday, July 24 near the banks of the Saluda not far from Riverbanks Zoo drew a lot of excited fans who are happy this project will provide access to the river for recreational use.
“This is a great day to celebrate a new type of transportation project, one particularly geared toward pedestrians and bicyclists,” said David Beaty, Richland County transportation manager.

“It combines being able to move people in a fantastic environment and beautiful scenery,” Beaty added, noting the project “represents a celebration of what can be accomplished when citizens decide to get behind improvements to their community.”

The ground breaking ceremony was, indeed, a celebration.
River Alliance chairman John McArthur, and board members including Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin and Richland County Councilman Paul Livingston had big smiles as they celebrated the start of the project they have envisioned for many years.

“The lower Saluda River is the most beautiful wild river in the area,” McArthur said, noting the rapids near Riverbanks Zoo and the isolation of the area. “This gives the community and tourists an opportunity to walk by this wild river in the middle of the Midlands.”

Phase 1 of the project is expected to take a year to complete. Future phases will result in connecting walk ways along the river from the Lexington Medical Center area to Gervais Street. McArthur hopes other phases will be completed within three years.

“This is wonderful for our community,” said Livingston, who grew up near the Saluda River. “I’ve often complained about us not using our resources. And the river is one of our best resources. This will be amazing, not just for economic development but for quality of life, for leisure. It’s absolutely wonderful.”

Benjamin told those at the groundbreaking – with a view of the Saluda River rapids in the background – that when Sen. John Lewis Gervais helped found Columbia in 1786, he envisioned the three rivers being an important part of the city.

“This is an exciting day for Columbia,” Benjamin said. “Let’s do this. Let’s make it happen.”
Richland County Council awarded a $5.9 million contract to AOS Specialty Contractors, Inc. to construct this phase of the project. Along with the concrete path and boardwalks, the greenway will feature zoo access, a maintenance building, security lighting, a parking lot, environmentally-friendly public restrooms, and signage and information kiosks. The City of Columbia will operate and maintain the walkway.

Riverbanks Zoo, SCE&G, David Jordan and the Gardner family own the land the river walk will pass through, and all granted easements for the project.
“I think more people need to be exposed to our wonderful river,” Jordan said.”

The Richland County Transportation Program includes projects throughout the county during a 22-year period or until $1.07 billion in sales tax revenue is collected. The program is divided into three major categories – roadways, The Comet (bus system) and bicycle/pedestrian/greenways – and includes such projects as road widenings, intersection improvements, sidewalks, bikeways and dirt road paving.

Benjamin and others say providing recreational river access is a great benefit to the Columbia community.