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Lower Saluda Scenic River Advisory Council

I have represented TU on the Lower Saluda River Advisory Council since its inception in the early 90s, and a new representative needs to commit to that role in order for the chapter to remain a voting member. This has a been a very effective group with much credibility from its respected DNR staff council chair person, Bill Marshall and the credible "Saluda River Corridor Plan" that I served on that is still a guiding document. The Advisory Council was legislated by the state scenic river act when the lower Saluda received that special designation from the SC legislature. It represents a broad spectrum of citizens, groups, and companies with river interests all trying to work out how to implement the original plan's recommendations and maintain its uniqueness as a state scenic river. As I was quoted in the fall, 2011 SC WILDLIFE magazine article, "Take Me to the River", we were more effective over the years by having our concerns espoused by the Advisory Council, not just by TU. We need to keep TU representation on the council in the future with someone who will be active in addressing issues and working with that group to address them (like we last did with Lexington County on the silt load in the Saluda).

Both Ted Wietecha, a Saluda Hills resident and Saluda River Chapter charter member, and I worked actively for a cleanup and protection of the property on the West Columbia side of the lower Saluda, and found the Lower Saluda Advisory Council to be a key ally. Using the Council as a forum we addressed the concerns about litter, property destruction, illegal firearm use, and other problems that had plagued this unique stretch of the river for years. For example, a wastewater treatment pond below the lower power lines below I26 was abandoned when West Columbia ran sewer lines to the area and we explored the possibility of a county park at that site. There were objections to a park increasing vehicle traffic in a residential area. The property owner ultimately sold it to a home owner who built the elevated house now seen below the lower power lines inside the private property boundaries at the downstream end of the pond.

The developer of Rivers Edge, Cliff Kinder, learned of our advocacy efforts for that stretch through his brothers, David and Alan, who ran Barrons on Harden for many years. He communicated his appreciation for our advocacy to the new homeowners group and we were offered access across their property to the river from parking at the end of Middle Loop Road. At first the only requirement for this privilege was that vehicles displayed TU window decals which resident, Bob Hayden, agreed to monitor for. It became obvious though that many acquired the TU decal often not renewing memberships and not participating or supporting the chapter in any way beyond the dues to national TU. With the chapter’s concern for being very unobtrusive to the neighborhood, we changed the requirement to a chapter ‘parking pass’. We levied a small fee for those with the idea of using the funds to cover the pass costs, to support our advocacy to enhance the river’s water quality and habitat for trout, and also for gifts of appreciation to the neighborhood.  Those began with wood duck boxes, bluebird boxes, and cook outs, and continued with periodic trash clean ups.

The usage continued to climb however to more than 60 passes in recent years and a parking policy was formally adopted by the chapter board and posted on the chapter website requiring a level of participation by those with the passes to serve as a minimum on a chapter committee. This was done to help restrict total passes given out each year to prevent parking overflows, and more importantly to ensure that the chapter ‘knows’ those that the passes are given to as courtesy and respect to the homeowners and their property are of utmost importance. Plus, the agreement to release all trout was added in return for the access privilege through the homeowners property. Any further changes to the parking policy should be brought to the chapter board of directors for discussion and approval with the original intention always in mind to be respectful and as unobtrusive as possible…

One of the key issues will be the next phase of the Columbia Greenway to run from the Zoo to I26. As I have noted before, there are plans for policing the problem areas around the Zoo which have led to many areas being restricted to the public. The project will also provide more public river access, including a take out point for floaters above the Mill Race Rapids for safer river exit, and a throw-in site below the I26 bridge at an old dirt boat landing once used by the Columbia Fire Department. The key feature will be a trail that will provide access up the river on the Columbia side which is now closed from the power lines at Mill Race upstream. This trail will finally provide long needed public access to the stretches of river around the islands below I26. Since much of the property upstream from the Zoo is private property, the new section of Greenway and new landings will make the river both more safer and more accessible for the public, and the provision for park rangers or city police as the other greenways have learned is a real necessity for an urban public park. Full details of the project can be learned from the River Alliance, including as a chapter monthly meeting program, and will be a major issue for the Lower Saluda River Advisory Council.

Note, the Congaree Riverkeeper was made an ex-officio member of the Advisory Council at my request in 2011 and will be a key leader on the best planning of this new stretch of Greenway and other access and safety issues with the city of Columbia and the River Alliance.

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