The primary goals of the Conestee Foundation reflect the diversity of the land comprising Lake Conestee Nature Park and its location near the heart of Greater Greenville, as shown in Figure 2-1, Figure 2-2 and Figure 2-3. These goals consist of environmental stewardship, recreation and tourism, environmental education and research, watershed stewardship, and community enhancement.
The rapid rate of development and conversion of open lands to residential, commercial, and industrial property are major concerns of the residents and leadership of Greenville County. Recent studies by the Strom Thurmond Institute at Clemson University reveal that development of land in the Upstate is proceeding at five times the rate of population increase. Therefore, preservation of open space and protection of wildlife habitat have become critical. With the vast majority of its land comprised of hardwood forest and wetlands, Lake Conestee Nature Park represents the major protected land of this type in the metropolitan Greenville area.
Environmental stewardship of this land is of critical importance to the Conestee Foundation. To this end, the Foundation has placed its parklands under a formal conservation easement that has been granted to Upstate Forever. This conservation easement requires protection and management of wildlife and wildlife habitat, protection of native plant species, preservation of forest and riparian lands, and protection of water quality. The easement allows for the construction and maintenance of trails, boardwalks, picnic shelters, an environmental education center and other typical features of a passive recreation environmental park. Construction of features that are not stipulated in the conservation easement agreement require prior approval by Upstate Forever to assure compliance with the intent of preserving the ecological resources of these lands.
Recreation and Tourism
Its location in the heart of Greater Greenville, only 5 miles from downtown, makes the Park highly accessible to the community. Its proximity to numerous hotels and restaurants, the area’s other attractions, make an easily accessible Lake Conestee Nature Park a logical tourist destination. In addition, the Park’s location immediately adjacent to the currently unused Greenville Municipal Stadium property and the capped City landfill property just to the north along the Reedy River Figure 2-3, means that the current 380 acre park will be expanded to a mixed-use park complex which will enhance its draw for tourism. This mixed-use park complex will be well over 500 acres, approaching the size of the Furman University campus or Central Park in New York City. Because the Conestee Foundation has control only over its own lands, the focus of this Master Plan is on the development of the Foundation’s property. However, the Foundation is mindful of its role in the development and enhancement of the greater park complex to provide a broader spectrum of recreational opportunities and draw visitors from outside the Greenville area.
Passive recreational activities are the main objectives of the Foundation in planning and developing the Park’s recreational facilities. Passive recreational activities include walking and hiking, bicycling, wildlife and plant observation, and nature photography. Educational opportunities, as discussed below, will also be developed, and will draw additional visitors to the area.
Environmental Education and Research
The history and diversity of the lands comprising Lake Conestee Nature Park are a rich resource for environmental education and research. The wetlands and forests found throughout provide a wonderful natural habitat for a wide variety of wildlife, including raccoon, fox, opossum, skunk, beaver, river otter, and other mammals. Over 150 species of birds have already been documented in the Park, including wild turkey, raptors, waterfowl, wading birds such as herons, egrets, and shore birds and a myriad of songbirds. Reptiles and amphibians are also abundant.
The diversity of habitats in the Park (including upland and bottomland forests, emergent wetlands, beaver ponds, upland meadows, lake, river, and stream waterways) provides a significant resource for basic and applied ecological research and field biology education.
The nature of the former lakebed, which contains the chemical record of Greenville’s industrial past in its sediments, provides a unique opportunity to observe and evaluate the natural recovery processes which have been going on for over 100 years. Additional aspects of the Park which provide educational and research opportunities include the former lakebed’s function as a flood dissipation basin and the impact of sediment transport and siltation in an urban watershed.
A principal goal of the Conestee Foundation is to develop rich educational and research programs based upon the wonderful opportunities provided in the Park through actively engaging the Greenville County School System, local private schools, Clemson University, the University of South Carolina, Furman University, Wofford College, and other institutions of research and education.
The former lakebed portion of the Nature Park is the largest single flood control basin in Greenville County. The park’s impact in dampening peak flows in the Reedy during flood conditions provides protection to downstream structures all the way to Lake Greenwood. The lakebed property is also one of the largest collectors of the trash dumped along Greenville’s roadsides which is ultimately washed into the Reedy River during heavy rains. The simple act of cleaning up the Park and maintaining Park facilities and vegetation protects the entire Reedy River watershed downstream of the Park. Therefore, watershed protection is one of the primary goals of the Foundation.
Prior to 1920, the Conestee community was a thriving mill town. However, between 1890 and 1915 the number of textile mills and supporting mill villages upstream of Lake Conestee increased from 2 to more than 12, and all of these mills and mill villages discharged their wastes directly into the Reedy River or its tributaries. The City of Greenville and other industries grew dramatically in this same period, and all discharged their wastes into the Reedy. In 1892 the City of Greenville built its first sewers which discharged raw sewage into the Reedy River. The raw sewage and industrial discharge contaminants reaching the river flowed downstream, where they settled out in the lake (mill pond) behind the dam at Conestee Mill. The impact of these discharges ultimately made life in the Conestee community untenable, and the mill and the town community began a decades-long decline.
Following the advent of the Clean Water Program in the early 1970s, the water quality in the Reedy River has significantly improved, and several decades of sedimentation have covered the earlier industrial contaminants in the lakebed. The area can once again be a desirable place to live. The Conestee Foundation believes that development of Lake Conestee Nature Park will enhance the community. One of the Foundation’s principal goals is to work with community leaders to develop the Park in a manner compatible with overall community goals and objectives.