Mission and Background
Conestee Foundation Mission Statement
The mission of the Conestee Foundation is to develop Lake Conestee and contiguous community lands into a nature park and wildlife sanctuary for public recreation. It will provide regional environmental education and research facilities, comply with appropriate site safety, regulatory and restrictive covenants, and support other entities developing the Swamp Rabbit Trail as a regional tourist attraction in Greenville County.
The original Lake Conestee was formed in the early 1800’s as a result of damming the Reedy River to provide waterpower for small mills near the location of the existing Village of Conestee, SC. The base of the present dam was constructed prior to the Civil War. In about 1892, the dam was raised to its present height, creating a 130-acre millpond. Over many years approximately 90 percent of the original lake has filled naturally with sediments and soils from various upstream sources. Most of the former lakebed now consists of a rich diversity of wetlands, bottomland hardwoods, and wildlife habitat. A 1.5-mile stretch of the Reedy River also winds through the original impoundment. The sediments deposited in the original lakebed contain pollutants from the river’s industrial past, but today the majority of the contaminants are covered by layers of more recent sediment and by a bottomland forest.
The Conestee Foundation, a 501C(3) conservation organization, was formed in 2000 to spearhead the revitalization of Lake Conestee and the surrounding community. One of its first tasks was to acquire the original 145-acre lakebed property. Subsequently, the Foundation successfully entered into a Voluntary Cleanup Contract (VCC) with the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) to safely manage both the legacy contaminants in place and the historic Lake Conestee dam, while creating a public wildlife and environmental educational park for citizens and tourists of the upstate. This project – conversion of a watershed-derived brownfield site into a public nature park that is led by a group of local volunteers – is nationally unique.
Managing the legacy contaminants and the dam are addressed in separate documents (i.e., the VCC and the associated Restrictive Covenant) and are not addressed in detail in this Master Plan. The Restrictive Covenant (RC) resulting from the VCC process specifies certain limits on activities in the lakebed. That is, for the protection of public safety and the environment, disturbance of soils, sediments and wetlands should be minimized, and there should be no swimming or taking of fish for consumption. Boating is not expressly restricted by the RC. However, the Foundation discourages boating in the lake and does
not support launching of boats within the lake, except for environmental study or maintenance activities. These activities must comply with precautions to minimize exposure to waters and sediments. Lake Conestee dam is also a regulated structure under the South Carolina Dams & Reservoirs Safety Act; and in order to protect downstream resources and public safety, the Foundation has submitted an Emergency Action Plan to SCDHEC that would be implemented in the event of failure of the dam.
Following the acquisition of the lake, and with funding provided by the South Carolina Conservation Bank, Greenville County, the City of Greenville and several local private foundations, the Foundation expanded the park to its current size of approximately 380 acres. This includes adjacent forests, farmlands and three miles of the Reedy River. With additional funding from the SC Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, Greenville County, the SC Department of Transportation and several local foundations, the Phase 1 trail system and boardwalks were completed and opened to the public in October 2006. The park welcomed over 500 guests in the first 10 days of its opening and visitation remains high.
The Foundation is now in the final engineering stages of a new pedestrian suspension bridge over the Reedy River and a new paved trail with additional boardwalks leading to the historic Conestee dam. Today the park is the southernmost destination of the 17-mile Swamp Rabbit Trail being constructed by the City and County of Greenville that will connect Travelers Rest to Conestee. To accomplish proper management and development of this growing park, the Foundation has entered into a primary partnership with the Greenville County Recreation District (GCRD). This partnership is receiving significant financial support from the Greenville County Hospitality Tax Program. The Foundation is responsible for continuing its primary role of planning and developing the park, including seeking funding for its infrastructure and programs. The GCRD is an integral part of this process, and additionally is providing the maintenance for current and future grounds and facilities of the park.
To document the exciting future of Lake Conestee Nature Park, and to guide its work, the Foundation developed a long range Master Plan. This plan was aided in its development through a series of stakeholder workshops with participants shown in Table 1-1.
The following sections of the Master Plan summarize the Foundation’s primary goals, the site characteristics of the park, the design principles used for developing the park’s proposed infrastructure, a strategy to implement the Foundation’s objectives and ambitious plans for the future. Lake Conestee’s future is bright. The Foundation welcomes your participation and enthusiasm in guiding our Master Plan towards its objectives.
Master Planning Stakeholder Committee
- Belmont Fire District
- City of Greenville
- City of Mauldin
- Clemson University
- Conestee Foundation Board of Directors and Staff
- Friends of the Reedy River
- Furman University
- Greenville County
- Greenville County Recreation District
- Greenville County School District
- Greenville Forward
- Naturaland Trust
- SC Native Plant Society
- University of South Carolina
- Upstate Forever
- Western Carolina Regional Sewer Authority