New Dorchester parks director being given a blank canvas

Eric Davis was recently hired as Dorchester County's first parks and recreation director. His job will be to build the department from the ground up and develop more outdoor destinations.

With the Ashley and Edisto rivers and large tracts of woodlands, Dorchester County is ripe for developing a park system that some feel could become a Lowcountry masterpiece.

"We've got a blank canvas that we can work some really great things with," said Councilman Jay Byars.

"There are a tremendous amount of natural resources in Dorchester County, just natural beauty that really is, to some degree, untapped."

To help develop more outdoor destinations, the county recently hired Eric Davis as its first parks and recreation director, a decision hailed by County Administrator Jason Ward as "a major step for the county."

The position has been on the county's radar since at least 2009, when a master plan called for the hiring, Byars said. County Council included the position, which will pay $63,335, in the 2013-14 budget.

Davis, 33, comes to his new position from the town of Summerville, where he served for 15 months as assistant director of the parks and recreation department. He was in charge of the Jerry Blackwell Sports Complex and supervised the town's farmer's market. He starts on Sept. 8.

"The challenges and opportunities related to creating a department from scratch are significant," said Davis, who will be a one-man department. "I'm going to be developing a park system and building the department from the ground up."

The job is similar to a the project manager position he held for five years with the Spartanburg County Parks Department, he said.

"I certainly see opportunities in Dorchester County," he said. "Dorchester County has quite a bit of very nice, natural landscape that could be used for recreation and tourism."

Dorchester County has just one park: Richard Rosebrock Park on the banks of the Ashley River at the corner of S.C. Highway 61 and Bacons Bridge Road, is 76 acres of trails and picnic shelters.

But county leaders have expressed interest in developing parks on land the county owns adjacent to the County Courthouse in St. George, where a recreational facility with athletic fields is planned; at Pine Trace, where a mix of fields and trails and picnic areas are planned; and Ashley River Park, where hiking trails, ponds, picnic areas and pavilions are planned.

In 2010, voters passed a $5 million referendum to fund parks and recreation that paid for the Pine Trace and Ashley River sites.

"We've started doing a lot of work as a body the last two years to start trying to lay out some plans, but we reached a point that we need someone whose dedicated job is to start finding ways to make these plans happen," said Byars.

Davis earned a bachelor's degree in history and political science and a master's of public administration from the College of Charleston, and is a Certified Parks and Recreational Professional with the National Recreation and Parks Association.

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