Existing Infrastructure and Future Plans
The natural terrain, size, and diversity of Lake Conestee Nature Park provide ample opportunity to meet the Foundation’s mission. Many facilities have already been constructed, and the second phase of design and construction is currently underway. Although there is still a long way to go to complete the “built-out” park, these Phase 1 and Phase 2 projects provide a significant base for the enjoyment of the Park by the public and establish many of the basic design criteria for future Park facilities.
Existing Facilities and Facilities Scheduled for Completion in 2008
Trails and Boardwalks:
The park currently has 2.2 miles of unpaved, natural surface hiking and biking trails and approximately 650 feet of 6-foot wide boardwalks. The trails were constructed in 2006 with a $100,000 grant from the SC Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism and $25,000 in matching funds and volunteer labor provided by the Foundation. These natural surface trails access the Henderson Farm parcel which consists primarily of upland hardwoods and meadows. Additionally these trails and boardwalks course through the northern portion of the lakebed property Figure 2-3 and Figure 4-1, opening to the public its bottomland forests and wetlands, as well as a half-mile of the western bank of the Reedy River. A 32-foot by 12-foot observation deck also was constructed in the wetlands portion of the Park in 2006 using funds donated by the Priester Foundation and Dana Leavitt. In 2007 a grant from the SC Department of Transportation and Greenville County was used to construct a 0.6 mile long, 10-foot wide paved handicapped accessible trail that courses through Henderson Farm’s hardwood forest and provides access to a large meadow. These two trails represent the Phase 1 Trail System that was initially opened to the public in October 2006. The general locations of all existing trails are shown on Figure 4-1.
Phase 2 of the Park’s trail and boardwalk system is currently under design, with construction scheduled to start in July 2008. Phase 2 will consist of three separate construction projects. The first project consists of three separate 8-foot wide boardwalks, with a combined length of nearly 1000 feet, which will be a part of the Phase 2 Paved Trail system extension. This project also includes 3550 feet of new natural surface trail on the east side of the Reedy River and over 200 feet of 6-foot wide boardwalk associated with this trail. All of the ends of the three boardwalks for the paved trial will be constructed flush with the trail surface, making the entire length of this trail extension handicapped accessible.
The second project under the Phase 2 trail system will consist of approximately 1.2 miles of 10-foot wide paved trail extending south, from the existing paved trail constructed on the Henderson Farm parcel in 2007 and running along the western edge of the lakebed property to the edge of the remaining open lake just west of the existing Conestee Mill. This paved trail will cross the three boardwalks described in the preceding paragraph. The combined Phase 1 and Phase 2 paved trails, shown in Figure 4-1, provide a handicapped accessible paved trail system over 2 miles long. Funding for the first two contracts under Phase 2 will be provided by the Greenville County Hospitality Tax in collaboration with the GCRD.
The third project included in Phase 2 provides for construction of a 216 foot long pedestrian suspension bridge across the Reedy River, connecting the proposed Park welcome center and environmental education center at the Forrester Farm property on the Mauldin Road side of the Reedy River via a trail on the 15-acre river bluff property next to the baseball stadium (Figure 2-3 and Figure 4-1) with the Phase 1 and Phase 2 trail systems on the west side of the river. This bridge will be 18 feet above the normal water level of the river and provide spectacular views upstream and downstream. Funding for this pedestrian footbridge is provided primarily by a new $100,000 grant from the SC Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, a nearly $30,000 grant from Greenville Women Giving, and additional funds provided by the Greenville County Hospitality Tax. Design for this important new feature of the Park, which will link the facilities on both sides of the Reedy River, is currently underway. Construction is anticipated to begin in the last quarter of 2008.
Key design criteria developed during Phase 1 were utilized in the design of the Phase 2 trails and boardwalks and will also be utilized in design of future trails and boardwalks. Key design criteria for the future include the following:
- All boardwalks constructed in the floodplain will be supported on galvanized steel helical piles to minimize disturbance to existing sediments during construction.
- All boardwalks constructed in the floodplain will be securely anchored to prevent flotation during flood conditions.
- All boardwalks with the ends constructed flush with the paved trail will be guarded at each end with collapsible bollards, anchored in concrete, to prevent motorized vehicles from entering the boardwalks.
Park Entrance/Access (Trailheads):
The three existing entrances to the designated public use areas of the Park currently are located at the end of Henderson Avenue, at the intersection of Fork Shoals Road and Whitehorse Road Extension, and at the new Belmont Fire District Station. Each of these entrances provides ample parking, and their locations are shown on Figure 4-1.
- The Henderson Avenue trailhead parking lot accommodates approximately 20 vehicles, including one van-accessible handicapped parking space. This lot provides direct connection to the northern end of the existing paved trail.
- The parking lot at the intersection of Fork Shoals Road and Whitehorse Road Extension, located at the western end of the existing paved trail, also provides van-accessible handicapped parking and space for about 20 vehicles. Both of these gated parking lots consist of crushed stone (except for the paved handicapped parking spaces), and include kiosks containing information on the park and trail maps.
- The parking lot behind the Belmont Fire Station is paved and only includes parking for about 12 vehicles – 7 adjacent to the kiosk and up to 5 on the opposite side of the fire station. No handicapped parking is provided at this trailhead as the trail leaving this location is not handicapped accessible. No gate is provided at this location since the fire station is staffed at all times.
Overflow parking is currently provided by staging vehicles at the former Greenville Municipal Baseball Stadium and shuttling guests to one of the designated entrances. Such use of overflow parking has only been required to-date for major park cleanup efforts, where large numbers of volunteers participate. Use of this overflow parking approach requires prior permission from the City of Greenville.
Additional trailhead parking will be constructed as part of the Phase 2 Paved Trail project at the southern end of the new paved trail. The parking lot at this trailhead will be paved and will provide 16 conventional parking spaces and two van-accessible handicapped parking spaces.
At present, public restroom facilities at the park are very limited. One unisex, handicapped accessible public restroom is available at the Belmont Fire District Station trailhead. The public can access this restroom either by walking a natural surface (non-handicapped accessible) trail or by driving to this trailhead parking lot from one of the other two trailheads.
At present, the are no water or power services within the portions of the park accessible to the public.
Conceptual Design of Future Facilities
Trails and Boardwalks:
After completion of the Phase 2 Trails, Boardwalks, and Bridge, the principal objective will be to link the northern end of the existing paved trail, near the Henderson Avenue trailhead, with the Swamp Rabbit Trail currently being constructed by the City of Greenville. The City is currently constructing a portion of the Swamp Rabbit Trail south from Cleveland Park to Greenville Technical College, and has recently issued a Request
for Qualifications to engage a design engineer to extend the City’s portion of the Swamp Rabbit Trail south to Interstate 85. The Conestee Foundation has committed to extend its existing paved trail system north to join the City’s trail at I-85, completing a paved greenway trail all the way from Conestee Mill in the south to the northern terminus of the Swamp Rabbit Trail in Travelers Rest.
Funds for the Conestee Foundation’s portion of the paved trail north to I-85 are currently budgeted for a 2009 Hospitality Tax capital expenditure managed by the GCRD. GCRD and the Conestee Foundation are currently exploring joining forces with the City of Greenville to consolidate design of the Swamp Rabbit Trail all the way from Greenville Tech to the existing Conestee Phase 1 paved trail. Such a joint design effort would likely reduce design costs and improve coordination for completion of this common greenway trail.
The general alignment of the paved Swamp Rabbit Trail north to I-85 is shown on Figure 4-2. The Conestee Foundation currently owns all lands required for the trail alignment north to nearly 2000 feet from the junction with the existing paved trail. Much of the trail will entail a side-hill alignment as the trail descends from the high ground of the existing trail into the flood plain. At this point, there are three available options for the alignment: 1) along the west bank of the Reedy River through an easement which must be obtained from existing land owners; 2) west along an existing public right-of-way (ROW) to Churchill Circle and then along Churchill Circle to a location where the trail can cut through to Foundation property; and 3) across the river to City landfill property for about 1500 feet before crossing back across the river to the Foundation’s 81-acre parcel on the west side of the river that was recently deeded by the City of Greenville to the Foundation.
Once on the 81-acre parcel, the Swamp Rabbit Trail alignment follows the west bank of the Reedy River northward across Brushy Creek and then across Western Carolina Regional Sewer Authority (WCRSA) land. This land is almost entirely in the flood plain, and the land consists of beautiful bottomland forest and wetlands. A considerable portion of this trail will likely consist of boardwalks and small bridges. The existing WCRSA treatment plant is totally hidden from view by the dense forest vegetation.
When the trail alignment emerges from the bottomland forest on WCRSA land, it proceeds northeasterly along the Reedy River, and across a single paved road utilized by WCRSA for truck traffic. Traffic and pedestrian controls at this road crossing will be essential, and WCRSA will have approval authority for the approaches selected for such control. After crossing this road, the Swamp Rabbit Trail must at some point cross over the Reedy River in order that it can cross under Mauldin Road on the eastern bank. Several options exist for the crossing location, and WCRSA will have final approval regarding the selection of the location. After passing under Mauldin Road on the easterly bank, the trail will proceed north along the Reedy River to cross beneath I-85 and link up with the City’s portion of the Swamp Rabbit Trail. The general location of this paved trail alignments, as well as proposed paved spur trails, are shown on Figure 4-2.
Extensions of the natural surface trail system are envisioned for the near future, and many can be constructed using budgeted Hospitality Tax funds allocated to the Conestee Foundation in 2009. One of these trail extensions, shown on Figure 4-2, consists of a trail and boardwalks running south between the east bank of the Reedy River and the open water of the east lobe of Lake Conestee. This trail will be completely in the floodplain and will likely require a significant sections of boardwalks and bog bridges. As second desirable trail system feature is a boardwalk across the very southern end of Marrow Bone Creek, just before it joins the Reedy River, connecting the Phase 2 paved trail with the existing natural surface trail south of the existing observation deck.
Welcome Center and Environmental Education Center:
Design and construction of a new park entrance, welcome center, and environmental education center on the Forrester Farm parcel on the hill just east of the east lobe of Lake Conestee is a major thrust for the Foundation in the next few years. The Foundation is currently working with the GCRD, the City of Greenville, and the Greenville Little League to create an integrated public park complex incorporating the City’s currently decommissioned stadium and surrounding land as well as a portion of the Conestee Foundation Forrester Farm property located south of the stadium property. A conceptual view of such a possible integrated park complex is shown in Figure 2-3 and Figure 4-1. The Foundation believes that this concept provides the maximum benefits to the Greater Greenville community. Principal advantages of such a joint use approach include: preservation of the riparian buffer along the east bank of the Reedy River and its use for trails accessing the new suspension bridge; the development of up to four new Little League baseball fields and the restoration of the existing stadium; and a joint-use parking area.
The detailed conceptual design of the welcome/environmental education center complex is of high priority to the Foundation and will be undertaken as soon as funding for this effort can be secured. Preliminary ideas for incorporation into this facility include offices for Foundation staff, a small museum featuring displays directly related to the Park and the Conestee area, space for exhibits related to the Park ecology, office space and a small laboratory facility for on-site research efforts, and a classroom available to visiting middle school and high school teachers for on-site instruction, and possibly a small conference center. More details regarding possible research activities at this center are provided later in this section.
An important Foundation objective is to promote responsible environmental stewardship through the preservation of natural resources and wildlife habitat. To that end, the various activity centers and park architecture will embrace “green” building initiatives in their colors, materials and forms. All structures will fully meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements and be designed to minimize impacts on natural resources. The Foundation will coordinate with the Native Plant Society of the Upstate regarding use of native plants in the landscaping for the welcome center/environmental education center and will explore having the Native Plant Society construct and maintain a garden area featuring native plants of the upstate at this location.
The location of the proposed welcome/environmental education center on the Forrester Farm parcel provides direct access to the edge of the lake where the Foundation proposes to construct a new observation deck. This location offers wonderful opportunities to observe waterfowl and other wildlife attracted by the open lake waters, including beaver and river otter. The Foundation proposes to construct a new observation deck on the lake’s shore at this point to enhance the experience of visitors and students.
The welcome/environmental education center would also be the principal location of public restroom facilities in the Park.
Henderson Meadow Area Facilities:
Approximately 12 to15 acres of former pastureland on the Henderson Farm property, located just south of Henderson Avenue, are currently open meadow. In 2007 most of the non-native trees which had become established in this area were removed, and the Foundation has determined that keeping this meadow in its existing state is in keeping with the overall purpose of the Park. Accordingly, development in this area will be limited and in keeping with the overall South Carolina piedmont farmland environment. Facilities envisioned in this area are shown conceptually in Figure 4-5 and include the following:
- A picnic pavilion and picnic tables located near the center of the meadow in the vicinity of the three large water oaks.
- A small open amphitheater located at the southern side of the meadow, near the edge of the existing forest, that can be used for classroom instruction and presentations to groups.
- A greenhouse for use by the Native Plant Society and constructed by that group.
- An area for community gardens if desired by members of the local community.
- If there is determined to be a demand for it, a small public event center which can be rented by groups for their use. It is envisioned that this center will have an architectural design reflecting farmland buildings such as a large barn.
Donaldson Center Extension:
Currently the entire north side of the Donaldson Center Property consists of a beautiful but unused greenway between Marrow Bone Creek and Perimeter Road. There is presently no access to this green space. The Foundation proposes to work with the Donaldson Center management to extend a paved greenway trail along Marrow Bone Creek to connect with Perimeter Road. Such a paved trail connection would provide direct access between Perimeter Road, which is already heavily used by bicyclists, and the paved Swamp Rabbit Trail. The trail could be constructed westerly from the Fork Shoals Road trailhead, within the ROW for White Horse Road Extension, to the existing closed public road ROW south to Perimeter Road, and then along this ROW to Marrow Bone Creek and Perimeter Road, as shown on Figure 4-2.
City Landfill Property:
The Foundation believes that development of the southern two-thirds of the capped former City landfill site into a recreational area would be a tremendous addition to the overall park complex at Conestee. With only a relatively small amount of work, this landfill, which now resembles an open pasture in appearance, could become a tremendous recreational facility. The condition of the landfill material which lies beneath the earthen cap, and State and Federal regulations relative to this landfill, will limit its potential uses to those that do not require construction of significant structures or require level surfaces. For example, continued subsidence of land filled materials would preclude construction of baseball fields, which require a very level-playing surface. However, many other potential recreational uses for this land exist, including the following:
- Dog park
- Picnic area
- Pitch and putt or Frisbee golf
- Wildlife rehabilitation shelter
- Native plant restoration and research.
The site belongs to the City of Greenville, and only the City can determine future uses of this potential park area. The Conestee Foundation will actively work with the City to integrate any recreational and educational facilities which the City may determine to be feasible at the site into the overall Lake Conestee Nature Park complex.
A comprehensive sign system is important to inform and direct visitors. Although a rather modest sign system is in place today, primarily for trail blazes and closures and directions to the park from primary roads, it will be expanded in the future to include signs identifying park entrances, centers of activity, information kiosks, new trails, mile markers, policy signs, interpretive signs and property identification signs. These signs will be made vandal and weather resistant and meet SC Department of Transportation regulations where necessary. Other informational materials, including maps, graphic images and photographs will be maintained at various kiosks and entrances for park visitors.
Currently, natural surface trails are designated only by color-coded blazes on trees, and the paved trail and boardwalks have no formal naming designations. As the trail system expands, and location within the trail system becomes more critical, it will be important to have a more definitive naming system throughout. In addition, naming of various facilities offers fund raising opportunities through naming rights. For example, through their donation of nearly $30,000 for the new suspension bridge, Greenville Women Giving was given naming rights for the bridge. The Foundation believes that developing a formal naming system for its facilities, and possibly granting naming rights in exchange for large donations to the Foundation, must be seriously considered in the near future.
Given the educational nature of the park, it is desirable that some limited portions of the trail system be provided with plant identification signs and interpretive signs which will help educate the Park users. Because it is desired to keep much of the park in its natural state, use of such educational signage should be judicious.
Best Management Practices and Development Phasing:
Natural resources within the park are very special assets and will be protected during any earth moving or construction activities. Best management practices will be employed in all design and development phases to minimize construction runoff and promote accessible sites with stable terrain. The precise timetable for future development necessarily will be a function of the funding available and adjusted accordingly. Any modifications to the original timetable or activities embodied in the original Master Plan will be evaluated by members of the Conestee Foundation and its various partners in implementing the Plan.
With the exception of the previously described Little League Baseball complex integrated into the location at the Mauldin Road park entrance and welcome center, and the possibility of developments such as a pitch and putt or Frisbee golf course at the City’s capped landfill site, recreation at Lake Conestee Nature Park will be limited to passive recreation opportunities such as hiking, trail biking, wildlife observation, nature photography, and plant observation.
The Park offers a unique opportunity to escape the urban landscape within a short drive of everyone in the Greater Greenville area. As the southern terminus of the Swamp Rabbit Trail, it provides the opportunity to “get back to nature”, enjoy the outdoors, and get beneficial exercise without the requirement of membership in a health club. Dogs are permitted, but must be on a leash, kept out of the water, and away from wildlife.
Education and Research Programs
Paris Mountain State Park and Roper Mountain Science Center have excellent programs aimed at elementary school students. In general, however, similar environmental education opportunities for middle school and high school students are lacking. The contaminated nature of the sediments in the former lakebed dictates that any “hands-on” approach to environmental education within the lakebed parcel requires a degree of maturity not found in elementary school students. Based on these two factors, the Conestee Foundation has elected to focus student environmental education efforts at Lake Conestee Nature Park on middle school and high school age students as well as university students.
However, by observing common sense safety measures (i.e., avoiding direct contact with surface waters and their sediments and limiting activities to the trail ways), many environmental education opportunities certainly are available for elementary grades and the general public. Moreover, this lakebed portion of the park requiring such practices is only approximately 1/3 of the existing parkland, and will eventually encompass only approximately 25% of the fully built 500+ acre park. The remaining 75% of the completed park will comprise rich upland and bottomland habitats that will be available for education functions and do not require the special protocols of the lakebed parcel. Thus, environmental education opportunities abound for all ages and many types of organizations.
In addition to environmental education, the Park offers wonderful opportunities for both undergraduate and graduate level research in both engineering and the sciences. To date, four Master’s Degree theses and one PhD dissertation have focused on the park environment. Specific areas of research provided by the Park and its environment include the following:
- Fauna and flora population biology and ecology research
- Ecological restoration design and practice
- Historic site contamination and recovery
- Ecological toxicology
- Parks and tourism utilization/management/planning studies
- Sedimentation and siltation effects
- Flood dissipation and control
Each of these areas offers a myriad of research opportunities. The Foundation will actively work with the colleges and universities in the area to develop research at Lake Conestee Nature Park and to provide the on-site facilities to enhance such research. In addition, as opportunities arise, Conestee Foundation staff will be encouraged to seek research grants of their own in conjunction with local universities.