Scenic River Designation Sought

An effort is underway to secure the Scenic River designation for parts of the Pacolet River and Lawson’s Fork Creek. The effort includes the work of many individuals including Wofford English professor John Lane, director of the upcoming Glendale Shoals Environmental Studies program; Terry Ferguson, a Wofford geology and anthropology professor; Spartanburg County Councilman David Britt; Dr. B.G. Stephens, a Glendale native and a board member of the Spartanburg Area Conservancy, or SPACE; Pacolet Mayor Elaine Harris and SPACE Executive Director Mary Walter.

A designation as a state scenic river, they hope, will breathe new life into the waters that meander along the county's eastern edge and could provide recreational opportunities such as kayaking, canoeing and cultural heritage tours. The residents say the designation, a program of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, will not only breed new interest in the waterway but also lead to a long-term river management plan to preserve the river and bordering land for future generations.

The goal of the state's Scenic Rivers Program is to conserve heritage through proper management of the natural and cultural character of river corridors through voluntary cooperation with the community and landowners. The Middle Saluda River in Jones Gap State Park became the state's first scenic river in 1978, followed by eight other river segments: the Ashley, Black, Broad, Great Pee Dee, Little Pee Dee, Little Pee Dee of Dillon County, Saluda and Lynches.

Areas being considered
The river segments under consideration for the scenic river designation are the Pacolet River from Clifton to Pacolet and Lawson's Fork Creek, which runs through Glendale before emptying into the river.

Spartanburg County Council has already given the project its blessing. Britt, whose trip down the river was his first paddling venture, called the day "an adventure he cherished." Now, he's already looking to buy two kayaks for himself and his wife.

"It was like finding gold in Spartanburg County," he said. "The Pacolet River, the Tyger River - the rivers we have are untapped treasure that's just waiting for us to utilize."

Kayaking and canoeing opportunities are limited along the river because of the lack of public access points, said Jeff Caton, executive director of the Spartanburg County Parks and Recreation Commission. One project the county envisions for the future is a regional park somewhere along the Pacolet River corridor, but first the commission wants input from potential users on what type park they would prefer.
At Glendale Shoals, families bring children to Lawson's Fork Creek to wade in the water and hop across rocks. Wildflowers line the banks, and the remains of the old Glendale Mill tower nearby.

Pacolet Mayor Elaine Harris, who has helped spearhead the effort, said the idea of the scenic river designation came from an Urban Land Institute study that suggested promoting the blueway as part of a revitalization plan.

"Assets that we have are the natural resources and our cultural heritage, cultural heritage being the textile industry, Native Americans - there are 13 sites along the Pacolet River between here (Pacolet) and Glendale that are on the National Register of Historic Places - and life has been recorded at 10,000 years ago," she said.

Designation process
A written request to DNR is the first step in initiating the process of designating a waterway a scenic river in South Carolina. Next comes an eligibility study by DNR's Scenic Rivers Program staff, landowner notification, a public meeting, a scenic river designation by the General Assembly, the appointment of an advisory council and the creation of a management plan.

The designation comes hand-in-hand with the Scenic Rivers Stewardship Program, which focuses on education and landowner contact. DNR employees attempt to build a relationship with the landowners to further the river's management goals. The landowner may choose, if he or she wishes to participate, among four land management options: a voluntary land registration in which the landowner agrees to manage land in concert with the scenic river goals, a memorandum of agreement in which the landowner agrees to manage the property in accordance with best management practices and a conservation easement or a donation of land.

Mary Crockett, DNR's Scenic Rivers Program coordinator, said the eligibility study won't begin until at least next year due to staff and budget constraints. One central benefit of the program is that DNR assists in writing a management plan for the river, with community and landowner input, and provides technical assistance to the advisory council.

"The main thrust of the program is community management of the river," Crockett said. "It's a voluntary thing. A designation has no regulations with it. It's a community way of conserving the river. It's like a grassroots kind of conservation. It's strictly voluntary. What a scenic river designation does do is bring attention to the area."

Landowner involvement
SPACE Executive Director Mary Walter, who is leading the local task force, said the study will consider wildlife, botany, geology, recreational opportunities, pure beauty, water quality and buffer zones from development. If the Pacolet reaches scenic river status, she said, landowners will be encouraged to help preserve the area.
"We hope that they will change any bad habits, for instance, like fertilizing right next to the river," she said. "That's just going to wash right into the river and taint the water quality. They really need to leave a good, safe buffer. We like to promote 200 feet, 100 feet would be great. But the bigger buffer you have, it's a natural filter for what happens and goes down into the water. Obviously what we're trying to get here is safer, cleaner water but also to provide the scenic benefits."

Landowner participation is voluntary, but proponents of the designation hope to get as many on board as possible. The designation can actually bring less burden and more benefit to the landowner, Walter said.
"I think that the benefit is really just knowing they're doing the right thing, doing a good thing by protecting the view-shed and the natural characteristics of their land," she said. "... There are a lot of people and property owners that are worried about what's going to happen to their family land long after they're gone, so if they can take the necessary steps to know that it's going to be protected after they're long gone, it gives them peace of mind."

The Future
In the end, the Pacolet River hasn't told its last story, Harris said.
"We feel like cultural heritage tours, ecotourism with kayaking and canoeing, those things that are centered around the river, this wonderful natural resource, can help to create a new industry here in Pacolet, connecting with our neighbors, like Glendale and Clifton, to help re-tell their stories for revitalization," she said. "I think I get my most enjoyment in sharing the stories that we have here. And just the ruins - a lot of time people think ruins are just not useful, but they are. They have a story to tell.
"And if we preserve those stories, they can be passed on from generation to generation. That's a way to preserve a wonderful way of life that was here, whether you want to look back 100 years or 10,000 years."

(This information is based on a story in the Spartanburg Herald newspaper on Sunday, August 31, 2008.)
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