LEXINGTON — The Irmo Chapin Recreation Commission will receive state funding to begin designing and building the Lower Saluda Greenway, which will connect with existing trails, creating a trail network that will run from the Lake Murray Dam to Columbia.
The 12-foot-wide greenway will connect the existing Saluda River Greenway, which runs along the river from Columbia to the Riverbanks Zoo, to Lake Murray, and will serve as an opportunity for Lexington County residents to travel to downtown Columbia by bike or on foot, bolstering the area's businesses and bringing tourism to the Midlands, said Mark Smyers, the director of the Irmo Chapin Recreation Commission, which is in charge of the project.
As development skyrockets in Lexington County, jobs are opening up, and boosting the quality of life for people in the area with resources like greenways attract more people to those jobs, Smyers said.
"Our ability as a community to compete for a great quality workforce needs these kinds of quality of life amenities in order to create that draw on our local industries," Smyers said.
Eventually, the goal is to create access points along the greenway, so Lexington County residents can ride their bikes to Columbia, Smyers said. This would allow people without vehicles to access downtown Columbia, including jobs in the city.
The Irmo Chapin Recreation Commission is still developing plans for the project, but hopes to have significant updates by this fall, Smyers said.
Also, more access to Columbia's waterways drives more tourism to the area, said Miriam Atria, CEO of Lake Murray Country Regional Tourism. In addition to taking advantage of outdoor recreation on the Midlands' lakes and rivers, people will shop, eat out and fill hotels on their vacations.
"If I don't know anything else, I know one important thing," Atria said. "Water attracts."
Most of the funding for the 10.5-mile Lower Saluda Greenway was provided in the state budget for the fiscal year that started July 1. An earmark sponsored by legislators from Lexington County provides $8 million, which fully funds the first of three segments and most of the second section, according to documents legislators provided Gov. Henry McMaster as he considered what to veto. The explanation was apparently sufficient, as he did not veto the funding.
The project's total cost is estimated at $15 million, according to Lower Saluda Greenway Feasibility study.
The greenway will not come without its share of challenges, however.
In order to connect sections of the greenway, the trail will have to run underneath Interstates 20 and 26, an interchange that is currently undergoing a decade-long renovation project by the Department of Transportation. In order to finish the greenway, The Irmo Chapin Recreation Commission will need to wait until the DOT is finished revamping the interchange.
In the meantime, however, the commission can begin building phases one and two, Smyers said.
"We've coordinated with the DOT," Smyers said. "They are very familiar with our project in hopes that, you know, as they build their project, they won't design us out of our opportunity."
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