Last month, Rock Hill Economic Development Corp. invited me to participate on a panel. The issue: extension of Dave Lyle Boulevard (DLX) across the Catawba River to Lancaster County. My role was to emphasize conservation for both the river and the nearby 5,000 acres affected by DLX. A caveat for our presentation: Newland Communities is off the table.
This was a learning opportunity for me. In preparation, I spoke with Rock Hill and York County departments that promote tourism and conventions, parks and recreation, as well as with members of the York County Forever Committee, organic gardeners, bikers, conservationists, equestrians and wildlife advocates. What was learned from these sources was helpful and encouraging from both a conservation and economic perspective.
My sources convinced me that we need to think "well out of the box." In fact, a paradigm shift in planning for property development seems timely. Simple minds design housetop sprawl. Cookie-cutter residential projects and street gridlock are passe. We in York County can do better.
For future planning, why not advocate the land between the river and Interstate 77 or U.S. 21 be designated as a "destination point" for eco-tourism economies? Creative communities around the world have done this with success through vision and inclusive planning.
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I learned that eco-tourism is the second-largest economy in South Carolina, second only to tourism itself. The river is a wonderful resource for water-related economies such as rafting, canoeing and fishing. At the top of everyone's conservation list are water quality and streamside parks and trails. One source quipped, "It's all about the river, stupid." The river is up for citation as a State Scenic River.
Revenues from equestrian activities in York County rank seventh in the state and are growing rapidly. There is talk of an equestrian center here. Whether located on this site or not, the area could provide for miles of equestrian trails.
Recreational economics from hiking, walking/jogging, biking, camping and wildlife viewing continue to increase in popularity. Within a decade, the area will be connected with several major hiking trails that could rival the Appalachian Trail system, i.e., Carolina Thread Trail, Mountains to the Sea Trail, Mountain Bridge Trail and a proposed trail to connect the Museum of Life and Environment with the Catawba Indian Reservation and Landsford Canal State Park. Over time, cultural aspects, especially art and crafts of the Catawba Reservation itself, could become a major draw for eco-tourism.
Commercial organic gardening is among the fastest-expanding economies. Food, especially healthful food, is in growing demand. Commercial farms are mushrooming around larger metro areas such as Charlotte, where daily delivery to restaurants is a necessity. More households are seeking local organic farms as a source for quality foods for the family table.
Now that the fairground in Rock Hill is no longer available, it might be feasible to have an agriculture-related presence on a site near the river. We can foresee farm pens, stables, corrals, exhibit spaces, a learning center for 4-H students and for gardening, home canning and food processing.
These are a few of the ideas that would promote conservation economies for the area. Let us not forget forestry, family farms and a good natural rural environment for those who reside there. We advocate private ownership by citizen farmers, foresters and entrepreneurs in eco-tourism. Over decades, councils of government could acquire properties from willing sellers.
The DLX road distance from Waterford to a proposed bridge is about four miles. Currently, all land affected by DLX is privately owned. The larger portion of the Catawba Reservation is a mile downriver from the proposed bridge site. DLX could be extended from Waterford to a river bridge without interchanges, with the exception of one serving the reservation. It is a well-known fact, based on thousands of examples, that the most effective way to destroy the character and charm of rural land is road construction, especially a major roadway with interchanges.
Extending Dave Lyle as a transportation link to U.S. 521 is one thing. But using it as a pretext for a subsequent network of roads to enable residential sprawl, shopping centers and office parks is another. We have the power to decide which is better for York County citizens. This conservationist votes to preserve the land and river in a quasi-natural condition while emphasizing eco-tourism for the future. Big is not always better.