Bethany residents coming together to address road, growth, environmental concerns

Betsy Johnson and her neighbor, Liz Johnson, love the rural character and wide-open spaces of the Bethany community in northwestern York County.

But they don’t expect it to stay that way.

The women, who are not related, share concerns about their community that include road problems, growth that will likely follow the construction of a new middle school in the area and the environmental legacy of contamination from a long-closed kyanite mine at Henry’s Knob off S.C. 55 just east of Bethany.

Betsy Johnson, Liz Johnson and others have formed the Bethany Community Association to help inform residents about issues in the community and to give them a voice.

“The people in this area don’t want anything to change,” said Betsy Johnson, 75. “They want it to stay the same, but it’s not going to stay the same. We need to be informed about what changes may be coming.”

Bethany is a large, unincorporated farming area west of Clover and north of York. McGill’s Store, at S.C. 161 and S.C. 55, and the Henry’s Knob site are well-known local landmarks.

The group organized late last year and has met twice. A third meeting is planned for 7 p.m. Tuesday at Oakdale Presbyterian Church in Clover. The meeting will focus on environmental cleanup efforts at Henry’s Knob and recreational programs and events at nearby Kings Mountain National Park.

Liz Johnson, a Clover school board member, said a new middle school on Barrett Road north of Clover, scheduled to open in the fall of 2016, will entice people to move to the area.

But many infrastructure improvements are needed, she said. Road and traffic problems, including a dangerous curve on Agony Acres Road that has been the site of several recent accidents, are among the concerns.

Another worry of many Bethany residents, Liz Johnson said, is the old mine at Henry’s Knob – which was shut down in 1970 – and the federal government’s efforts to protect private wells from a plume of contaminated groundwater that has leaked from the site.

“We have a creek on our land that’s been contaminated because of the work on Henry’s Knob, the mining,” she said. “There’s no life, no tadpoles or any living things, no vegetation around that creek. It’s still contaminated.”

Craig Zeller, who is coordinating the Environmental Protection Agency-supervised cleanup at the 185-acre Henry’s Knob, is scheduled to speak to the group. Zeller met with concerned residents last year to update them on plans and hear concerns.

Bethany residents need to make their voices heard by local government leaders, Liz Johnson said.

“The people right in this area really need to wake up,” she said. “We need improvement in this community, we really do.” She said Bethany also needs cultural attractions. “We want a healthy, interesting and safe environment for children who grow up here.”

Betsy Johnson said her ancestors settled in the Bethany area about 1740. She left York County to attend college and lived in Florida for a while, but she moved back in the late 1970s and has lived there since.

“I love it; it’s beautiful,” she said. “I like the beauty of the land, the topography, the gardening possibilities. I love the mountains. This is a good, well-balanced climate.”

But, she said, the area’s proximity to Charlotte and to Interstate 85 means it has the potential for explosive growth.

“It’s not going to stay the same. It’s going to change,” she said.

The area has wonderful recreational opportunities nearby at Kings Mountain State Park and the adjacent Kings Mountain National Military Park, both off S.C. 161, Betsy Johnson said, but many people don’t use them.

Leah Taber, a ranger from the military park, has been invited to speak to the group about programs and events there.

Bethany residents need to gain a better understanding of the community’s problems and what can be done about them, Betsy Johnson said.

“What we really want to do,” she said, “is get information and be able to have a group that says, ‘We are the Bethany Community Association,’ ” she said, “and we want some answers.”