Glass walls bring in natural light and a view of the landscape as visitors are welcomed to the Anne Springs Close Greenway in Fort Mill.
The new Greenway Gateway, a welcome center at the Lake Haigler entrance, will introduce visitors to the 2,100-acre nature preserve’s historic buildings and 36 miles of hiking, horseback riding and biking trails, said Elizabeth Bowers, spokesperson for the Greenway.
“Our new facility will serve as a gateway to nature, a launching point for outdoor adventures on the Greenway,” Darrell Williams, chair of the Greenway board of managers, said in a statement. “It’s a welcome center to provide information and orientation for first-time visitors, and also a place where members and visitors can gather to relax and enjoy amenities before or after their activities on the Greenway.”
The Greenway’s namesake, Anne Springs Close, 93, said Wednesday during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the center, she is “thrilled because it’s been a long time coming.”
“We finally got it in the right place and we got the right building,” Close said. “I couldn’t be more excited about it.”
The Gateway opens to the public Saturday. The facility is near Lake Haigler Drive at the Greenway’s entrance at Highway 21 Bypass in Fort Mill, near the Greenway’s Nature Center.
“It’s our welcome to the Greenway,” Close said Wednesday.
The center will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free for Greenway members and is included in the $5 visitor fee for non-members.
“This will become the main entrance to the Greenway,” Bowers said. “This is our front door. It’s a place for people to come meet our staff and find out what we are all about.”
The 6,300-square-foot facility features an open lobby with seating, a covered porch with rocking chairs and ceiling fans and bathrooms that will be accessible 24/7, Bowers said. The parking lot has 120 spaces. A kiosk will offer an interactive Greenway trail map, she said.
The $4 million project was funded through donations to the Greenway’s “Nature Needs You” capital campaign that launched in 2012, Bowers said. Individuals and companies made additional donations, bringing the total raised in the campaign to more than $12.7 million.
The center was made using sustainable practices, Bowers said. Existing trees were preserved, including a willow oak planted in honor of the late Howard Knox, longtime director of the Anne Springs Close Greenway Recreation Complex, states the release.
The facility uses daylight and solar panels to limit energy use, the release states. A rainwater collection system contributes to irrigation needs for the surrounding landscape. Low-flow plumbing fixtures reduce water use.
Domtar Corp. in Fort Mill, a paper products production company, donated money to build a forest porch connected to the welcome center, Bowers said. That project will be completed by early next year.
A forest porch is described as “an elevated platform among the trees which will allow visitors and participants in the Greenway’s outdoor educational programs to experience nature in a unique way,” according to the Greenway statement.
The Gateway Canteen will offer food and beverages daily, including beer and wine. Charlotte-based Fresh Eats Catering is providing the menu. The canteen will be open 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.
Close said she wanted to preserve the 2,100 acres that make up the Greenway.
Close wanted to “save some of the forest and creeks and fields that I grew up playing in,” she said. “I wanted future generations to be able to do that, too, because I think it’s so important to be outdoors.”
Chuck Flink, master planner of the Greenway, said Wednesday that Anne Springs Close is a “giant among conservationists” and she has a place in history.
“She’s your hometown hero, but to us at a national and international level, she’s a rock star,” Flink said.
The Greenway is a not-for-profit organization and receives no government funding. Additional campaign projects include the Mary Warner Mack Dog Park and Comporium Amphitheater, according to the Greenway’s website.
The Greenway had more than 250,000 visitors last year, a release states. More than 5,000 children are enrolled in summer camps and more than 22,500 students benefit from outdoor education programs.
The Greenway is open daily from 7 a.m. to sunset.