Make Catawba 'scenic'

Designating a significant section of the Catawba River as a scenic river would be one more way to help ensure that the river and the land along its banks are protected from over-development.

The Catawba Region Council of Governments is one of the prominent backers of this proposal. The Council's Catawba River Corridor Plan, approved in 1994, called for designating portions of the river as "scenic," but, until recently, the plan had been dormant.

Last week, however, the Council of Governments voted unanimously to explore the possibility of getting a "scenic" designation for a 30-mile stretch of the Catawba in York, Chester and Lancaster counties.

Once that designation is in place, property owners along the river would be chosen as river advocates. They would form a partnership with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and, together, they would recommend ways to protect the river and its banks and propose a long-term plan for utilizing the river as a natural recreational resource.

The group would have no real authority to impose regulations on property owners, such as establishing buffer zones, or restrict the use of the river in any way. That authority still would rest with county and state governments.

But river advocates and DNR officials could serve in an advisory capacity, pointing out abuses of the river or the riverbanks. They also could suggest ways to encourage eco-tourism along the 30-mile stretch of river.

As officials with the Council of Governments noted, the ongoing drought has seriously taxed the Catawba in recent weeks, and forecasters hold faint hope of significant rain to replenish the river in the near future. These conditions underscore the need to seek ways to protect this vital resource.

Rampant development along the river corridor also threatens to encroach on its natural beauty and limit access to the river by the public. York, Chester and Lancaster counties need to develop plans to encourage more public recreational opportunities on the river, such as canoeing, boating and kayaking, fishing, bird-watching and nature walks along the banks.

It is doubtful that over-development can be staved off without practical alternatives for generating these recreational opportunities and encouraging smart growth that maintains green space and river buffers. And that, we think, is where river advocates and those involved in securing a "scenic" designation can play a major role.

We applaud the Council of Governments for pursuing this effort and hope the respective county governments will lend their support.