Within a stone’s throw of the new SCANA headquarters and around the corner from Amazon’s warehouse, outfitters are busy leading canoe trips on the black waters of wildlife-rich Congaree Creek.
On recent weekends, dozens of people also have been hiking and biking on a new paved trail along that creek, before it even officially opens.
Nearly a decade after Cayce leaders first dreamed of an outdoors recreation explosion off the 12th Street Extension, it’s finally happening.
“We do realize what assets we have there,” said Cayce Mayor Elise Partin.
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With the long-range plan for a park to celebrate nearly 12,000 years of habitation in the bluff along the Congaree River, the history and outdoors recreation opportunities are “pretty unique and pretty phenomenal,” Partin said.
In the 1990s, only the daring would park their vehicles and explore the wooded areas where Old State Road turns from asphalt to dirt. It was one of those out-of-the-way areas where kids went to make out or party.
The Guignard Brickworks Trail opened in 2000 in the 627-acre Congaree Creek Heritage Preserve on Old State Road, but that 2.5-mile loop through thick forest seldom draws more than a handful of people each day.
Just before 2000, Cayce officials started advocating canoe trips on Congaree Creek, which winds from Charleston Highway near I-26 under 12th Street and Old State Road to the Congaree River. But the Tin Products chemical spill a dozen miles upstream in February 2000 made the creek unsafe for swimming for several years. Then SCANA discouraged creek access during construction on their new headquarters.
With the creek deemed clean and the headquarters open, access to the canoe launch at 12th Street was allowed starting in 2010. Last year, outfitters Get Your Gear On and Palmetto Outdoors began doing the dirty work of cutting out fallen trees that blocked the creek in many spots.
Now, they both offer guided trips on the creek. Palmetto Outdoors took a group of college kids on spring break from Pittsburgh on the creek Wednesday. Get Your Gear On has trips booked each of the next two weekends.
Tim Ray of Get Your Gear On, who did most of the clearing upstream of 12th Street, offers a three-hour Upper Congaree Creek trip from Charleston Highway to 12th Street, a 90-minute trip from 12th Street to Old State Road or a 4- to 5-hour trip from Charleston Highway to Old State Road.
“It’s a completely different trip above 12th Street and below,” Ray said. The creek is skinnier with more twists and turns and more big cedar trees in the upper section. The lower section, below 12th Street, is wider and easier on paddlers.
Michael Mayo of Palmetto Outdoors focuses on the lower section, but he has begun doing things a little differently. He paddles downstream from 12th Street, gets out at Old State Road, and offers his customers a history tour during a 15-minute hike back to the boat launch.
That hike is made much easier by the new paved trail built along the creek by SCANA this winter. The 1.5-mile trail on a beautiful bluff over the creek isn’t officially open yet, but people already have discovered it. Hikers and bikers have been using it for weeks.
Following the winding dirt trail in the heritage preserve or paddling on the creek can be daunting to novices, but the new paved trail is an easy walk, similar to the West Columbia-Cayce Riverwalk. (By the way, Cayce this week approved a contract to build another seven-tenths of a mile extension of the Riverwalk from the southern edge Riverland Park subdivision back to the river. Eventually, it’s planned to stretch all the way to I-77.)
For now, the SCANA trail doesn’t connect to the Riverwalk. Instead, it starts at the canoe launch just off 12th Street at the SCANA headquarters entrance and ends on Saxe Gotha Road just past the Cayce Tennis and Fitness Center, another of the new recreation outlets in the area.
The crowds of tennis players and their families coming from throughout the country to the tennis center next fall for the USTA Jr. Team Tennis National Championships probably will be amazed that they can hike through a biologically diverse forest or kayak on a black-water creek within an easy stroll from the courts.