The Conestee Foundation, a 501(c) (3) conservation organization, was established in 2000 with a mission to spearhead the revitalization of Lake Conestee and the surrounding Conestee Village community with the development of a public nature park and environmental education center.
The historic Lake Conestee was established in the early 1800’s through damming of the Reedy River to harness the river’s waterpower for early mills. By 1892, construction of the existing rock dam had created a 130-acre lake. Over the course of many years, this lake has undergone a natural ecological progression as sediments and soils have filled approximately 90 percent of the lake. As a result, nature has created a lush bottomland forest containing large wetlands, 1.5 miles of the Reedy River, and a rich diversity of wildlife habitat. The sediments that were deposited in the lake contain pollutants from the Reedy watershed’s industrial past. The Conestee Foundation has entered into a Voluntary Cleanup Contract with the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control to safely manage the legacy contaminants in place, while creating a public wildlife and educational park for the citizens and children of Greenville County.
The Foundation currently owns the 145-acre Lake Conestee property; and with the support of funds provided by the South Carolina Conservation Bank, the Graham Foundation and Greenville County, we were able to retired the mortgage on the adjoining 112-acre Henderson Farm property. In 2006, the Conestee Foundation was awarded grants from the South Carolina Conservation Bank and the Community Foundation of Greenville that enabled the purchase of the Forrester Farm, a 40-acre parcel on Lake Conestee’s east bay, thus increasing the Foundation’s holdings to more than 300 acres. This purchase is especially significant because it preserves a large tract of natural land in a primarily urban area, and provides a convenient main entrance for the park on Mauldin and Conestee Lake Roads.
In the fall of 2007, the Greenville City Council passed both the first and second readings of a measure which will transfer 80 acres of City-owned bottomland forest and wetlands on the west side of the Reedy River to the Foundation. Eleven of these acres will be purchased by the Foundation, using a grant from the South Carolina Conservation Bank, and the remaining 69 acres will be donated to the Foundation by the City. When this transaction is completed, which is anticipated before the end of 2007, the Foundation’s holdings will increase to 380 acres. The Foundation is also working with the City of Greenville to eventually include much of the City’s capped landfill into the park.
The Foundation’s properties (including the pending 80 acre sale/donation by the City of Greenville) are adjoined upstream along the Reedy River by land owned by Renewable Water Resources [(ReWa) formerly known as Western Carolina Regional Sewer Authority]. Most of the ReWa land on the west side of the Reedy River is comprised of beautiful bottomland forest and wetlands, which are well buffered from the treatment plant facilities. The Conestee Foundation is working actively with ReWa to extend the Reedy River Greenway north through the ReWa land, and we have received agreement in concept from that agency for this trail alignment.
With the inclusion of all of the lands described above, Lake Conestee Nature Park will encompass an estimated 600 acres. It will be the southern hub of the developing Reedy River Greenway corridor and will include hiking and biking trails, boardwalks, group activity areas, and an environmental education center.
The Conestee Foundation has already received a $100,000 grant from the SC Department of Parks Recreation & Tourism, that the Foundation matched with $25,000, to build 2.2 miles of hiking trails and boardwalks. These trails were completed in 2006; and with funds donated by the Priester Foundation and by Dana Leavitt, we have completed a spectacular observation deck located between two beaver dams in the west wetlands portion of the park. Additionally, with a grant from the SC Department of Transportation and Greenville County, the Foundation connected its Henderson Avenue trailhead and Fork Shoals Road with a 2/3-mile paved handicapped accessible trail that was completed in spring 2007. These two trails represent our “Phase I Trail System,” which we officially opened to the public in October 2006. The response to this opening was great. We estimate that over 500 persons visited the park and hiked the trails and boardwalks just during the first 10 days of operation, and visitation at the park has remained high during all of the following months.
During 2007, the Foundation obtained two additional grants, a $100,000 grant from the SC Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism and a grant of just under $30,000 from Greenville Women Giving, for construction of a pedestrian footbridge across the Reedy River. This bridge will connect our existing trail system with our property fronting on Mauldin Road, where we plan to establish our main entrance to the park. We anticipate that this bridge will be completed in 2008.
There is much to be accomplished to complete the Lake Conestee Nature Park vision, including: additional land acquisitions; more trail construction and recreation features development; environmental education center design, construction and program development; to name only a few. In order to accomplish this vision, the Foundation is leading the development of a comprehensive Master Plan for the park. We have established a Master Plan Committee made up of major stakeholders, including the City of Greenville, Greenville County Council, the County Recreation District, the County Planning Commission, Renewable Water Resources, the County School District, the City of Mauldin, Clemson University, Furman University and the University of South Carolina. This committee has been meeting regularly since December 2005.