Protect scenery, history on Riverland Drive

The Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments is developing a plan to protect the natural and historic character of Riverland Drive on James Island. (Leroy Burnell/File)

Quiet roads draped in Spanish moss and punctuated by glimpses of marshes and wetlands are becoming fewer and further between, particularly just minutes from downtown Charleston.

But Riverland Drive has somehow managed to avoid much of the overdevelopment and sprawl that have beleaguered other scenic Lowcountry corridors.

Covering almost five miles of roadway along James Island's western edge and designated a state scenic byway in 1988, Riverland Drive is currently home to a handful of subdivisions, the James Island County Park and large swaths of undeveloped public and private land.

However, the road has been a key corridor for centuries, with a history dating back to before the first European settlers arrived. And now, a comprehensive management plan being developed by the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments, along with substantial public input, will lay out a set of goals and visions for protecting the scenic byway well into the future.

Public input has already helped shape the plan during comment sessions in April and June, and a final meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Monday. at the Lowcountry Senior Center, 865 Riverland Drive. The finished document is expected to be completed by the fall.

Four major goals have been outlined thus far:

1) Safeguard what people value 2) Tell the stories of the area 3) Make way for play 4) Enjoy the journey.

The overall idea is to maintain and communicate the aesthetic and historic value of the corridor while providing both improved recreational access and a safer, more functional road.

Several parcels of nearby land could be targets for future development, but the management plan would seek zoning solutions to help maintain the road's current character. The plan also suggests that improvements be made to allow safe bicycle access and expanded walking trails.

A large, controversial development now being built on Maybank Highway and the looming possibility of added traffic stemming from the extension of I-526 have added particular urgency to these efforts.

It's important that plans be put in place to protect Riverland Drive now rather than later. Sensible guidelines and sustained community involvement will help ensure that the scenic byway continues to be a dynamic, accessible resource long down the road.