People trying to get to the Saluda River rapids through the Riverbanks Zoo parking lot will have to walk farther this year and will have more eyes watching them.
Zoo officials decided to install traffic barriers and orange cones to cut off access on all but the busiest days to about 100 spots at the west end of the parking lot, the end closest to the popular Millrace rapids. Zoo security workers, along with new surveillance cameras, also will be keeping a better watch over the rest of the parking lot, said Satch Krantz, the zoo’s executive director.
The measures, which began last week, are designed to reduce problems caused by the party crowd that flocks to the river during warm months. The number of problems – fights, car break-ins and drunken people wandering through the parking lot, for example – has risen in recent years, Krantz said.
The zoo spent very little on security specifically for the parking area before last year, when it paid nearly $60,000 for surveillance cameras, security guards and signs, Krantz said.
Zoo officials considered spending even more to build a fence, which would have forced anyone turning right after entering the parking area to go through a guard gate. They decided instead to block off a portion of the end of the parking area.
“This is the least disruptive alternative for regaining control of the west end of our parking lot,” Krantz said.
That end of the parking lot is used mostly by zoo employees, picnic area visitors and river users. Blocking off the end of the lot means the closest parking spaces will be about 30 yards farther from the river. River revelers will have to park another 100 yards or so away in the zoo overflow parking lot.
A similar move blocking off the east end of the parking lot except on the busiest days cut down on problems there in 2009, Krantz said.
“I’m glad they are going to allow people to access the river from the parking area,” Congaree Riverkeeper Bill Stangler said. “But I have a hard time seeing how this will solve the problem. ... It’s one of the prettiest spots on the river. People aren’t going to stop going there.”
The solution, according to Stangler, is for Columbia officials “to see that that area around the zoo is the No. 1 priority” for expansion of the Three Rivers Greenway. A design for a greenway trail around the zoo, complete with a separate parking area and river access point upstream of the zoo, was approved nearly a decade ago, but funding for it never has been approved.