In its history, Colonial Lake has changed from a sawmill pond in the 18th century to the centerpiece of a park in the 19th century to the well-loved walking, running and baby strolling spot that it remains today.
Charlestonians don’t make changes easily. It’s been more than 125 years since Colonial Lake underwent an overall redo. Now it’s time, and plans for the upgrade are impressive enough that they should win over those who might be reluctant.
The Charleston Parks Conservancy and the City of Charleston, with support from the Historic Charleston Foundation, recently introduced the public to the project, which will raise the water level, improve the water quality with a new flushing system, install new landscaping, seating and lighting, and give strollers some extra elbow room by narrowing Rutledge Avenue, which runs along the east side of the lake.
The aim is to maintain Colonial Lake’s visual and historic connection to Charleston but to “raise the bar” as regards its landscaping.
Already the Harleston Village Neighborhood Association made a significant donation towards the work, signaling members’ enthusiasm.
There is more fund raising to do. The city has committed $4 million of money from tourism-generated taxes. The Conservancy has agreed to raise $1 million for the implementation and $200,000 for its ongoing maintenance, which will be handled by professional horticulturists and, to a large extent, by conservancy volunteers.
Colonial Lake is a local icon. It holds memories for generations of families who live nearby and all across the city. On any day, people circling the lake include dog owners from the neighborhood, speed walkers from uptown or West Ashley, tourists from anywhere, college students getting some sun and toddlers holding tight to their mothers’ hands.
It’s at least a bit like what city fathers had in mind in 1768 when they set aside the area forever for public use.
Philanthropist Darla Moore, founder of the conservancy, said the Colonial Lake project is a “100-year” effort. It’s a major challenge, the likes of which won’t be undertaken again any time soon. Most of the Conservancy’s work thus far has involved smaller tasks of planting and beautifying a number of the city’s 110 parks that exist on the peninsula, west of the Ashley and on Daniel Island.
Ms. Moore, who has a love of nature and has established a botanical garden in her hometown of Lake City, told us that she drives by Colonial Lake often and that it “feels cold.”
Indeed, while it still produces warm feelings for many people, it definitely needs a facelift. Landscape designer Scott Parker has a vision that gives it one, without sacrificing its particular sense of place.
Construction should begin in the spring of 2014 and be complete July of 2015.
If everyone were to give a dollar for every time he has circled the lake, the conservancy would be able to declare its fund-raising campaign a success.
If you haven’t made the loop recently, do it now. Relish some old memories and imagine the beloved place, functioning well and dressed up in a lovely landscape.
And consider contributing to ensure that the next generation, and the next, love it too.