As the weather turns warm and people flock to area waterways this spring, they will find public access hasn’t improved around the Saluda River rapids.
A plan pushed by Columbia City Council member Cameron Runyan for a small parking area just below the rapids evaporated when Richland County voters passed the penny sales tax in November. Runyan said the city shouldn’t spend money for something that now is part of a planned county project, the Saluda River greenway.
Among the projects planned to be built with sales tax money is a greenway section around the zoo. Construction documents were drawn several years ago and could be dusted off with minor changes, according to River Alliance director Mike Dawson. Greenway backers hope it’ll be included in the first phase of penny tax construction projects. But even the best-case scenario for completion of that project is summer 2014.
The only way to get to the river in that area this year is to park along Candi Lane and walk across railroad tracks.
Depending on location, both parking and crossing tracks could be illegal. River users are distraught that they have to go through another summer of potential law-breaking just to get to the rapids.
“I am disappointed that public access to this phenomenal natural resource will not be restored this season,” said Bill Stangler, who in his position as Congaree Riverkeeper advocates the waterways in the area.
Riverbanks Zoo for decades allowed river visitors to use its parking area. But the river crowd had grown rowdier in recent years, leading to fights, drunken driving and thefts in the zoo parking lot. To protect its paying customers, the zoo built a fence that cut off access to the river from its parking lot.
Riverbanks CEO Satch Krantz said the parking lot problems have basically disappeared since the fence went up late last summer.
Only a handful of incident reports have been filed by the Columbia Police Department along Candi Lane since the zoo fence went up, according to police records.
Those incidents have involved underage drinking, public drinking and larceny.