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Boat ramp to improve York County recreation

Of the few access points on the Broad River, the one at the Irene Bridge on S.C. 211 in western York County has always been for the adventurous.

The bank was washed out, logs were lying around and it was "pretty snaky," said Tom Jackson, who spent much of his time growing up in York and floating down the Broad River awaiting whatever sight nature had to offer around each bend.

He would pull his canoe out of the water and carry it up a steep embankment to his vehicle parked in the grass on the side of the road. But he didn't always feel safe pulling out onto S.C. 211.

Soon river goers will have a safer, public place to launch their boats near the bridge.

The state Department of Natural Resources, with help from York County, plans to build a 2.5-acre public boat ramp about 5 miles southwest of Hickory Grove at the S.C. 211 bridge over the Broad River in York County.

The facility will include a gravel parking area and a concrete ramp to accommodate trailer launching, said County Engineer Mark Kettlewell.

Federal grants and money allocated for York and Cherokee counties through the state Department of Natural Resources will pay for the project, which is expected to cost about $280,000.

Assisting DNR, York County will purchase the property up front and be reimbursed later. The county will also handle the process of bidding out construction.

The county's primary responsibility after the ramp is built will be to maintain it.

York County Council won't have to appropriate any local funds for the project, said County Manager Jim Baker.

A lack of public access along the river has deterred most people from using the river, said Chad Chandler, who owns the property slated for the ramp.

Mostly only folks who know people living along the river use it.

The ramp, which will be named in honor of his grandfather, Marion Cecil Chandler, will open up the river to more people, he said.

Chandler has already received a call from a kayak rental company interested in setting up an operation nearby.

The ramp at the S.C. 211 bridge will be "wonderful" and ideal, Jackson said.

Not only will the facility provide a safer way to get in and out of water, a better place to park, and eliminate the risk of getting stuck, it will also open up the river to adventurers who aren't quite willing to risk the more primitive boat launches and "throw-ins," he said.

And there's always the added benefit of the outdoors, he said.

"It gets people off the couch and away from work," Jackson said.

Wanted: More recreation

The discussion about the boat ramp has been ongoing among state and local officials in York and Cherokee counties, Baker said.

They considered sites for a public river access in Cherokee County and around York County-owned Worth Mountain near Hickory Grove, but none worked out.

Worth Mountain, which DNR leases from the county, is primarily used for hunting. There are gravel roads and good fishing locations there, but not much parking, Baker said.

Shallow water at the only location for a possible boat ramp would have ruled out power boats. There also were significant flooding issues, Baker said.

The boat ramp comes at a time when officials are assessing York County's need for more open space, public parks and recreation opportunities.

York lacks recreation facilities compared to some other counties in South Carolina, according to a recent study by the York County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Bennish Brown, executive director of the CVB, shared the study with the York County Council last week.

Aiken County staffs five parks and has 14 unstaffed parks and eight boat landings, the study showed. Aiken has a population of 160,000.

Charleston County, with about 350,000 residents, maintains 19 boat landings and 25 parks, which include water parks, dog parks, meeting and event rental spaces, a marina, equestrian center, and climbing wall, campgrounds and fishing piers, among others.

York County, by comparison, owns and manages four parks: Ebenezer Park, Allison Creek landing, Nanny's Mountain and Worth Mountain.

The study shows that parks and open space opportunities are high priorities for York County residents.

Whether York County has adequate park space has come up in relation to other controversies.

Earlier this year campers at Ebenezer Park complained when the county raised the rates at the only county-run campground.

Residents living along Dave Lyle Boulevard said they wanted to see more park and recreation facilities as priorities in the county's vision for how the corridor, which will extend east of Rock Hill toward the Catawba River, will be developed.

More parks planned

The county has several plans in the works for additional parks and recreation opportunities, Baker said last week.

There has been some talk about transforming the boat landing at Allison Creek into a "bigger and better Ebenezer Park," Baker said.

Duke Energy owns the land but can qualify for grant money aimed at encouraging the company to create more recreation opportunities on water ways where its facilities are located.

The county was granted land as part of the Crowder's Creek and Allison Creek planned developments, and since then, there has been discussion about putting ball fields there, Baker said.

A master plan for that site is in the works, Brown said.

The county has also been exploring properties that might be good sites for agritourism activities and officials are assessing what it would take to see the project through.

York County Council Chairman Britt Blackwell said after Brown's presentation that parks and recreation - like tourism - are important to providing residents with better quality of life.

After talking with his daughter about how many young people enjoy having pets, he asked the county to see whether a dog park would be feasible on county property.

However the county moves forward with exploring its options for parks and recreation opportunities, it should consider what municipalities already offer, Brown and Baker have said.

The City of Rock Hill, for example, maintains 31 parks and four recreation centers, according to its website.

Baker said it's unclear how the county's plans will pan out.

The challenge, he said, will be to find "a package that everybody supports. ...We're going to have to figure out where the council is as a whole and put together a program that has pieces of what everyone is enamored with."

That still leaves the question of who will pay for them.

"These are all wonderful amenities, but they all cost money," Baker said.