Too often, people fail to recognize how much they treasure publicly accessible green space until it’s gone. Thanks to the generosity of the heirs of the Springs Industries fortune and their dedication to maintaining undeveloped land, Fort Mill boasts a protected Greenway that is larger than New York’s Central Park.
Now, however, Anne Springs Close, for whom the Greenway is named, and her family want to enlist the community in helping to preserve the property and expand the programs offered there. A ceremony was held April 20 to launch a $15 million capital campaign to build a welcome center and amphitheater, and establish an endowment to protect that the 2,100-acre Greenway and ensure that it remains a natural oasis in this fast-developing community.
This is not the end of participation by Anne Springs Close and her family. They already have contributed $5 million to the campaign and will remain involved in the planning process.
But the campaign has received another $5.5 million from area businesses, business owners and individual donors. And a long-term strategic plan developed by national preservation experts and adopted in 2010 calls for greater community participation in programming, planning and financial support.
The capital campaign is the next step for the Greenway, which now is primarily supported by user fees, donors and sponsorships. The planned endowment would provide even more financial security in years ahead.
The tradition of the once-booming Southern textile industry was to provide “cradle to grave” support for employees and the surrounding community. Mill owners often not only offered jobs but also helped with housing, schools, medical care, recreational facilities and other benefits.
In a sense, the Greenway is a vestige of that relationship, an effort by the family that benefited so much from the business to give back to the workers and their descendents. And it is no surprise that Close, who reveres nature and untrammeled space, would choose to make the Greenway the gift for which she will be most remembered.
“We only set out to save a few trees but we are delighted the Greenway has become so popular that we’re adding programs and making improvements that will move us to a new level,” she said at the recent ceremony.
Indeed, the Greenway has become not just a natural getaway but also an essential recreational and educational asset for the community. The recreation complex that backs up to one of the trails, which was opened by the family in 1976 and named after the late Leroy Springs, now is the site of most of the town’s youth sports programs.
The Greenway also comprises 40 miles of trails, swinging bridges, historic buildings and the historic 1940s Dairy Barn for special events. Its various trails are used by hikers, students, bird watchers and exercise walkers.
The new welcome center will help orient visitors as they enter the Greenway, and the amphitheater, with natural seating for 750 people, will provide a site for a variety of programs and presentations. A dog park also is in the works, as is a trail for strollers and people out for an casual saunter.
We are grateful to Anne Springs Close and her family for the enormous effort they have put into conserving this land and making it available to the public. We also applaud their foresight in engineering the transition to greater community involvement in managing, supporting and planning the future of this invaluable asset.
As Close said, this is a move to “a new level.” We’re confident it will be a step up.