COLUMBIA — A scenic Saluda River waterfront trail is set to formally open to the public, a milestone toward what Columbia officials expect will become one of the Midlands' top attractions.
The Saluda Riverwalk has long been known to regular visitors who have walked and jogged along the water before the path was finished.
But now the approximately 3-mile stretch from the junction of Interstates 26 and 126 to where the Saluda River meets the Broad and Congaree rivers is complete, under the jurisdiction of the city of Columbia as a public park and includes parking and restroom facilities.
The 140 parking spots and public facility on Candi Lane near Riverbanks Zoo will open for the first time at 6 a.m. June 12. A more formal grand opening is planned later in the summer, said Columbia City Councilman Howard Duvall, a board member of the nonprofit River Alliance that has long advocated the project.
"This is going to be one of the biggest draws for recreation in the Midlands that we've ever seen," Duvall said during a council meeting June 1.
The riverwalk headed east toward downtown Columbia ends near a connection to Boyd Island, which is accessible to visitors and offers views of the rivers converging and local wildlife. Work to formally connect the current end of the riverwalk to the Boyd Island bridge will begin later in June.
"It's going to be a wonderful place to go out and get back to nature within five minutes of maybe the largest city in South Carolina," Duvall told The Post and Courier.
A second, $5-million phase of the Saluda Riverwalk has already begun planning and permitting and would connect the trail to downtown as part of the larger Three Rivers Greenway. The Richland County penny transportation tax from 2012 paid for the completed portion of the riverwalk, and funding for the second phase is still being worked out, Duvall said.
The River Alliance has led an effort for more than 20 years to build the network of walkways along the rivers of the Midlands. Alliance director Mike Dawson said in 2020 that connecting the complete system has long been a goal of the project.
“Connectivity is the trick to all of this,” Dawson said. “You can count the people that go in the zoo, you can count the number of people that go in the museums down there, and you say, ‘What happens if we’re able to move back and forth?’”