Dorchester County unveils vision for a parks system

A boat rounds the bend of the Ashley River near a Herbert H. Jessen Public Boat Ramp walking path. Part of the Dorchester County Parks and Recreation master plan includes extending the Sawmill Branch Trail across Dorchester Road to the boat ramp.

Dorchester County residents may have outdoor opportunities in the coming years that include trails, athletic fields, and possibly even a ropes and disc golf course.

But it will come at a cost.

Parks and Recreation Director Eric Davis presented a $14 million master plan to develop several parks. But the plan could also cost taxpayers $24 annually on a $150,000 home to bring in the $2 million a year needed to cover operating costs.

If Council supports the plan, residents could decide on the tax hike in a referendum in 2016.

For now, the plans are just that, plans, Davis said.

“We don’t have any environmental clearances or approved wetlands surveys by the (U.S.) Army Corps of Engineers for any of our parks,” Davis said. “That’s one reason all these concepts are highly conceptual, because until you know where your dry ground is it’s tough to design a park, which means you don’t know exactly what it costs or what you can fit in there.”

The county currently has only Rosebrock Park, a 70-acre natural area with shelters, that was built with 2.5 miles of trail, but the widening of Highway 165 forced the closure of about a mile of that.

Davis, hired in September as the county’s first parks and recreation director, updated the master plan that was created in 2009 to potentially carry the county through 2022-23. It calls for using land the county already owns.

Public input meetings on the plan will be held this summer and the plan will be tweaked before being brought to Council for its blessing, Davis said.

Elected officials also approved this month the creation of a nonprofit “friends” group to secure additional park grants and donations for the projects.

The plan’s priorities are development of the Ashley River park off Bacons Bridge Road and a park next to the County Courthouse, Davis said.

Among the improvements slated for Rosebrock Park include more trails and building permanent restrooms.

In addition, the recreation commission recommends connecting Rosebrock to the Ashley River Park, Davis said.

“Instead of having a 70-acre park and an 80-acre park, you’ve got a 150-acre park altogether,” Davis said. “That opens the door for events like races and things like that.”

The 80-acre site on the banks of the Ashley River would be a recreation-based facility, with fishing, trails and potentially a tree-top ropes course. The land, which at one point was planned for a housing development, has infrastructure in place.

It was purchased in 2012 for $1.4 million that came from a $5 million bond referendum voters approved in 2010.

“We think there is a lot of opportunity for this park,” Davis said. “That would kind of be the hub on the Ashley River.”

Plans call for two phases.

The first phase is to “basically get it open,” and includes amenities like a dog park and picnic shelters. More than $1.1 million in bond money remains available and could be spent toward this park, Davis said.

Phase two would be for a possible amphitheater and other larger projects, he said.

About $850,000 of the 2010 bond referendum will be used to fund the development of a 5- to 10-acre park next to the courthouse in St. George.

“We have scaled back the concept for this park,” Davis said. “At one time it was being seen more as a tournament facility but we scaled it back primarily because of costs and wetland issues. Also, we’re not 100 percent sure that the demand for that many active recreation fields is really there in that part of the county.”

Plans still call for a baseball/softball field, multi-use field, basketball courts, tennis courts, a walking loop, playground, shelter and restrooms.

“It’s just your basic community park,” Davis said.

At 255 acres, Pine Trace off Miles Jamison Road in Summerville is the largest county park site. It will be next to the new Sires Elementary School and a 52-acre planned community for 90 houses.

The site is pegged for passive recreation that could include trails, shelters and a disc golf course.

The 21-acre Ridgeville site was donated by the neighborhood’s developer and is adjacent to 15 acres that were donated to Dorchester District 2 for a future school.

Plans include sports fields, athletic courts, a playground, walking loop and restrooms.

“We could meet the Ridgeville area’s active sports recreation needs there,” Davis said.

The 54 acres on Old Fort Drive Extension was included in the 2009 plan, Davis said.

“The original master plan called for putting in a BMX track there,” he said. “There’s no BMX track in the entire Lowcountry. Part of the feedback process will be to see if that actually is still a demand.”

The site is also close to the Eagle/Chandler Creek Trail, making a bicycle-themed park a good idea, Davis said.

Plans call for the bike track, trails, athletic courts, playground, shelters and restrooms.

Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or @brindge on Twitter.