The Gills Creek Watershed Association has finalized a conceptual plan for the first segment of a trail proposed along the urban creek in Columbia.
The $2.6 million trail, running from Shady Lane to Rosewood Drive, would serve the 14,175 residents living within a mile of the creekside trail.
Emily Jones, volunteer president of the watershed association, said the group produced the .8-mile plan in hopes of being one of the first greenway projects funded with the penny sales-tax for transportation.
“We just think there’s a lot of opportunity to reclaim the creek as a community asset,” she said. “Right now, to most people it’s a ditch people throw trash in.”
The creek provides a natural path for wildlife and people, Jones said.
Tim Ray, who canoes Gills Creek to fish out trash and clear limbs, said the urban creek is lined by big trees. He’s seen deer, coyote, barred owls and songbirds.
“It’s nice going back there,” he said.
The first segment would intersect a commercial district where Devine Street, Fort Jackson Boulevard and Beltline Boulevard converge. The city of Columbia is finishing a land-use plan for the area that, at the request of residents, is heavy on pedestrian improvements.
Jones said the advocacy group has pitched the proposal to the three major property owners, who would be asked to provide easements for the project, and is preparing to share it with neighborhood groups.
The city of Columbia has a sewer easement along Gills Creek that would provide a natural starting point for the project, Jones said.
She described the trail as “a fairly sophisticated” project involving restoration of creek banks and perhaps a launch for kayaks or canoes but no lighting.
The Gills Creek Watershed Association would need to find money for restoration work, which would not be eligible for funding with the transportation tax, approved by Richland County voters in November 2012. The tax primarily will be used for road improvements, but a portion also will go for public transit, sidewalks and trails.
“There’s a lot of pieces to be figured out, for sure,” Jones said, “but you’ve got to start somewhere.”
Eventually, the trail would run all the way to Shop Road, near the old Intertape Polymer plant.
Once completed, the trail would have parts that would remain primitive, said program coordinator Erich Miarka.
“We do want to maintain some wilderness feel” in the future section continuing from Rosewood Drive to Shop Road, he said.
Reach Hinshaw at (803) 771-8641.