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 Reedy River Greenway as a regional tourist attraction in Greenville County.
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.
Partner organizations: OverviewThe Conestee Foundation has been intimately involved in community planning, natural resource and recreational planning processes at the state, regional and local level with regards to environmental restoration, recreation, education and health at Lake Conestee.
As part of these numerous meetings, the establishment of a trails network to serve both the local and regional community has been discussed and has received resounding approval and support. The Foundation directly participated in the Reedy River Task Force watershed planning process administered by SCDNR, and was also integrally involved in the Reedy River Corridor Study conducted by the Landscape Architecture and Planning Department at Clemson University. We have participated in greenway planning meetings with the Greenville County Council, the Greenville County Recreation District’s planning staff and its consultants. The Foundation has also given tours of the Lake Conestee property to members of Greenville County Council and Recreation District Staff to discuss the future of Lake Conestee and its development into a recreational resource. The Foundation participated in Vision 2025 meetings to determine the future of parks and greenways in Greenville County.
Through these activities we have advocated the development of the Greenville County Greenways system, a countywide system of hiking and biking trails. Our advocacy has not been singularly focused on recreation, but also on education, protection of water quality, and restoration of riparian buffers. Area high school science teachers were consulted during a 2002 EPA Education Grant, and again this past summer, to determine how to best utilize the educational resources at the park for local students.
The Greenville County Recreation District (GCRD) held a series of 11 public meetings and three focus group meetings with selected recreation user and administration groups that focused on developing a Community Wide Recreation Needs Assessment for Greenville County. The results from focus group meetings and public meetings showed strong support for increased walking, biking, and nature trails along with a desire to see larger facilities. Results also showed a need for more linear parks and greenways throughout Greenville County. A survey was completed during this time to gain input on the public’s perspective on needs for parks and recreation facilities. The results from this survey showed a desire for all the recreational opportunities that can be provided at Lake Conestee, such as walking/jogging, hiking, visiting nature preserves/natural areas, and biking. A large demand was also shown for large parks with passive recreation facilities and natural resource parks. A direct recommendation from this planning process was the development of a linear park/greenway at Lake Conestee to serve Greenville County’s recreation needs.
The Conestee Foundation has coordinated its efforts to plan and design recreational and educational trails at Lake Conestee with numerous agencies. The Foundation has made formal presentations to City Council and the Greenville County Council Finance Committee, both of which addressed the Foundation’s plans for park expansion. A public meeting was also held in October 2006 to update citizens on environmental testing at Lake Conestee related to the Foundation’s Voluntary Cleanup Contract with SCDHEC.
Also critical, we have interfaced with the members of the affected community through church groups, community meetings, and scout organizations to identify their needs and preferences. Representatives from the Conestee Foundation attended Conestee Village Community Festivals in 2005, 2006 and 2007, and the Augusta Acres neighborhood festival in 2005. The Foundation presented plans for park development at these community events, and responded to any questions raised by the local residents. These festivals provided an ideal opportunity for the Foundation to interface with affected community members and receive public input for the LCNP planning process.
In an effort to maintain interagency cooperation, the Conestee Foundation established a Master Plan Committee that has been meeting regularly since December 2005. The committee is made up of major stakeholders, including the City of Greenville, Greenville County, the City of Mauldin, Renewable Water Resources (formerly Western Carolina Regional Sewer Authority), Donaldson Center, Greenville County School District, Greenville County Planning Commission, Greenville County Recreation District, Clemson University, Furman University, and the University of South Carolina, and several conservation organizations (i.e. SC Native Plant Society, Upstate Forever, Naturaland Trust). The Committee expects to prepare a draft Master Plan document outlining the long-term plan for Lake Conestee Nature Park by mid-summer to present to the public for approval.
In addition, the Conestee Foundation has coordinated with several local organizations, such as the SC Native Plant Society and Wildlife Rehab. The Native Plant Society is interested in developing native grass research plots at LCNP, which could be integrated into the park’s educational facilities. Wildlife Rehab also utilizes the site to release rehabilitated wild animals, such as birds, skunk, weasels, squirrels and raccoons. In the future, Wildlife Rehab may consider building a wildlife shelter at LCNP, allowing them to treat many more animals and increase public awareness of local wildlife.
Finally, the Foundation has welcomed the support of the local community through various volunteer projects. Boy Scout troops, Science Clubs, Community Service groups, and local community members have all shown interest in working on projects at the park.
Our first large-scale volunteer event, Lake Conestee Operation Clean Sweep, was held on February 24, 2007. The Foundation recruited more than 150 volunteers from local businesses, universities, conservation and service groups, and the Conestee community. The Saluda Reedy Watershed Consortium funded the event, and the City of Greenville and PalmettoPride donated additional supplies. Volunteers collected over 8.5 tons of trash and 152 tires. The event was so successful that the Foundation plans to organize an annual cleanup to help maintain the trail network and increase public awareness of watershed stewardship.
Partner organizations: Major contributors
(Land Acquisition, Capital Improvements, and Park Development)
Community Foundation of Greater Greenville
Greenville Women Giving
City of Greenville
Greenville County Recreation District
John I. Smith Foundation
Michelin North America, Inc.
SC Conservation Bank
SC Department of Health and Environmental Control
SC Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism
US Environmental Protection Agency
University of South Carolina
Partner organizations: Other ContributorsClemson University
Friends of the Reedy River
Foothills Paddling Club
Foothills Resource Conservation & Development Council
Greenville County Bird Club
Greenville County Soil & Water Conservation District
Greenville County Planning Commission
Half-moon Outfitters of Greenville
Hands on Greenville
Renewable Water Resources
Saluda Reedy Watershed Consortium
SC Native Plant Society
SC Department of Natural Resources
SC Mitigation Trust Fund
Sullivan Law Firm
US Army Corps of Engineers
USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service
Partner organizations: Education