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Georgetown residents share thoughts about new Black River state park

Black River meeting in Georgetown

Michael Ethridge with Earth Design moderated a Georgetown meeting about plans for a new state park and water trail. The map shows five properties that would make up the park along a 70-mile stretch of the Black River. Tommy Howard/Staff

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second installation in a series of articles about a proposed new state park. Future articles will include comments from the public meetings and looks at several of the properties that would be included in the “Black River Water Trail & Park Network.”

A group of Georgetown County residents heard about ideas for a proposed new state park. Along the way, they shared their thoughts about what they’d like to see included in a unique park that will stretch about 70 miles along the Black River.

It’s not a done deal yet, but ideas for the “Black River Water Trail & Park Network” were wide-ranging at the first of three public meetings in May.

Michael Ethridge started that meeting at the Howard Center in Georgetown. It was also live streamed on the Georgetown County video channel.

Ethridge and Rick Huffman are with Earth Design in Greenville.

Earth Design was hired by Open Space Institute (OSI), Ducks Unlimited, Butler Conservation and the Nature Conservancy. ADC engineers, Craig Golden Davis Architects and Muldrow Arnet Planners are among contributors who we are forming the consultant team.

During each of the three public meetings, Ethridge showed the video and suggested that people go to the storymap that explains the proposed state park and a link to a video: Connecting to South Carolina’s Black River.

In the storymap's "Participate" section, there are two surveys designed to solicit feedback from the public. The first is a short questionnaire designed to find out how people are currently accessing and using the river, and what new public access points they would like to see. Second is a longer community survey designed to gauge support for the initiative.

Long and narrow park

The focus area for the proposed park would start in the Kingstree area of Williamsburg County, Ethridge said. It would follow the tannin-dyed river along its meandering way to Rocky Point Community Forest in the Choppee Community of Georgetown County.

Back in the 1950s, International Paper Co. created Browns Ferry and Rocky Point Parks along the Black River. For many years, they were among the few places open to the public for local residents to go for a park, boating or swimming in the river. The paper company also set up small boat landings along several rivers in the county.

When the paper company sold off most of its timberlands the new owners closed the parks.

About three years ago the Open Space Institute, Winyah Rivers Alliance and other partners bought 462 acres of land in the Choppee community that includes the boat landing. Georgetown County bought another 200 acres behind the Northwest Regional Park and Rocky Point Community Forest came into being. It’s the only community forest in South Carolina.

Crown jewel

Ethridge described several of the five properties that will be included in the new water trail and state park.

Kingstree has recently acquired three acres for a Mill Street park in town. South Carolina Parks and Recreation recently accepted a donation from OSI of the Hinds-Canada tract, which contains 310 acres, that will be a key element of the park. The Butler Conservation Fund owns the thousand-acre Black River Cypress Preserve near Andrews. The Nature Conservancy has a separate preserve, “and then lastly, kind of the crown down here, there’s Rocky Point,” Ethridge said.

Earth Design and other consultants are working with the town and county governments to help bring things together since all the entities want to find ways to increase recreation opportunities and facilities for the area.

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“Building off what you already have, but thinking in terms of anchoring the corridor with these two parcels (Hinds-Canada and Rocky Point) and offering what was described to us and as we were asked to consider it, varied levels of access and various programmatic elements based on the suitability of their location. So those would be kayak launches, camping facilities, visitor centers, educational facilities, community spaces, basically,” Ethridge said.

“So we don't have a perfectly dialed in program. And we're looking for you guys to provide things that we're not thinking of that those things that I just mentioned that could be included.”

Over the next several days, similar public meetings were held in Andrews and in Kingstree/Williamsburg County.

Georgetown meeting

Throughout all of the public meetings and the more than 1,100 online survey responses, the No. 1 concern people voiced was litter. People want the recreation opportunities, and they want them to stay clean and uncluttered.

Among other ideas and questions:

• Dirt, gravel, pervious pavement or hard surface? Ethridge said pervious would be ideal, but maintenance and costs could lead to hard surface.

• Erin Pate said the Black River Cypress Preserve is open sporadically right now. Some additional parking and facilities are being built. The property will be open more consistently once that work is completed.

• Pate also said her organization and others would like to find ways “to be more intentional in our outreach to those underserved communities.”

• Be aware of and build for access for people with disabilities.

• Have a flat area overlooking the river where people could enjoy the view.

• Camping access for Scouts and other groups.

• Programming areas and facilities for nature, ecology, Indians/Native Americans, Gullah, and local history.

• Find ways to accommodate different types of boating and kayaking.

• Elevate buildings above ground level to lessen or reduce the impact of flooding.

Ethridge said after the public meetings and more suggestions come in from the online surveys, Earth Design and other consultants will flesh out more ideas. There will be a planning charrette in the fall that will present information collected up to that point. The various consultants will seek more input from people and work intensively over a few days to refine and perhaps expand ideas that come up at that time.

Overall, Ethridge said, the consultants plan to present a set of recommendations for a master plan by the end of the year.

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