SUMMERVILLE — Three years ago, the idea of something as expansive as a regional park in Dorchester County was a daydream.
Features proposed for Ashley River park
- River wetlands and woodlands hiking trail.*
- Stocked fishing pond with platforms.*
- Pondside pavilion, meeting hall and amphitheater sites.
- Paddle boat launch, rental facility, boat dock.
- Two riverside camping areas with toilets and showers.
- Dog park.
- Picnic, shelter areas and playgrounds.
- Wildflower meadow.
*Expected to be available when park opens its first phase.
Now, the gates could swing open as early as next spring.
The Ashley River park is in active planning as a multi-use, passive woodland and water attraction — the sort of thing, in other words, that county residents now have to travel to Charleston County to find.
A modest admission fee will be charged similar to those at Charleston County parks — itself a big coming-of-age for a county that three times since the 1990s turned down paying for a bond to buy park land, before approving it in 2010.
The first detailed concept plan of the park was reviewed earlier this week by the parks and recreation commission. It was drawn using ideas from the public given during a walk-through of the 83-acre tract along the river earlier this year. The county will host a second public walk through to review those features, tentatively to be held on a Saturday in August.
“Hopefully by the end of the year we’ll be able to start moving dirt,” said County Councilman Jay Byars. “From what I’ve heard, getting (the first phase) open in the spring isn’t out of the question.” That phase is expected to include at least trails and a stocked fishing pond.
Charleston County has long had a growing assortment of recreation parks. Berkeley County hasn’t, relying instead for recreation on Lake Moultrie, Francis Marion National Forest, the Santee and Cooper rivers.
Dorchester County, while watching its population boom to more than 130,000, offered nothing more than unimproved boat landings on the Edisto River.
A managed park “is long overdue,” said Mike Montei, a commission member who lives near the Ashley River site. The park “is a first step in (an overall) park venture that has the makings of a solid plan.”
The Ashley River tract sits north of the river and east of Bacons Bridge Road in the booming development area outside Summerville. It includes more than a half mile of frontage along the river, in a jungle-like stretch when it turns from a blackwater creek to a tidal stream.
In the subdivision-swarmed Oakbrook area outside busy Summerville, the tract was a late and fortunate acquisition. Few large open properties were left in the 1990s-2000s development boom, and civic leaders roundly considered it too late for public money to be able to compete in the bidding. The Ashley River property was in the process of being cleared for development when the builder went into receivership in the 2008 recession.
It was one of two large tracts, along with the 330-acre Pine Trace property nearby that the bond money was approved just in time to set them aside.
Purchased in 2012 for $1.3 million of that money, the tract came with an estimated $3 million worth of infrastructure already in place, including sewer lines, a large fishing pond with a gazebo, a dock on the river and a riverside trail with boardwalks.
Even then the buy was controversial; some people argued the money could be better spent. The finished park will prove itself, Montei said.
“It’s a resource that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the county, the first of its kind,” he said.
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