After flooding, portions of SC Botanical Garden reopen

Recent rainfall caused extensive damage to the SC Botanical Garden in Clemson, SC, as seen in these photographs taken July 13, 2013.
Recent rainfall caused extensive damage to the SC Botanical Garden in Clemson, SC, as seen in these photographs taken July 13, 2013. SC Botanical Garden

Portions of the S.C. Botanical Garden have reopened after the garden closed for the first time in its history because of damage from flooding over the weekend, but a new section considered to be one of the centerpieces of the garden will likely remain closed through spring.

The Natural Heritage Garden trail, where most of the damage occurred, and the Children’s Garden and Butterfly Garden were still closed Monday, said Patrick McMillan, garden director.

“The whole (Natural Heritage Garden) trail was scoured away, and most of the exhibits that are along that trail were so heavily damaged that it’s going to take us a long time to repair,” McMillan said.

He said the Children’s Garden and Butterfly Garden are expected to reopen this week, but the half-mile Natural Heritage Garden trail will probably remain closed at least through spring.

“It’s our newest exhibit that we had opened, and it’s the one that has been the focus of all of our work pretty much in the garden for the last two years,” McMillan said. “We just opened it in the spring.”

Located at Clemson University, the Botanical Garden is almost 300 acres of natural landscapes, display gardens and miles of streams and nature trails along with the Bob Campbell Geology Museum, McMillan said.

He said the garden sustained more damage during this weather event than any other.

“Monetarily we don’t have an exact figure yet,” McMillan said. “But it’s definitely going to be more than $200,000 worth of infrastructure damage.”

Jeffrey Taylor, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service at the Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport in Greer, said as of Sunday the Upstate has had 43.84 inches of precipitation since Jan. 1.

“That’s 18.59 inches above normal for this time of year so far,” Taylor said.

Taylor said the chance for rain is lower today and climbs a little higher Wednesday, around 20 to 30 percent. That goes up to around 40 percent Thursday, 30 to 40 percent Friday, 40 percent Saturday and climbs to around 50 percent Sunday.

McMillan said they are “terrified” of more rain and what impact that could have for the garden.

“We are all addicted to radar,” he said. “Everything is already flooded. It’s already soaked, and you can’t add water to that.”

McMillan said most of the bridges on the Natural Heritage Garden trail have structural problems or are missing.

“A couple of the bridges we don’t even know where they are,” he said.

“This trail is where we focused on native and rare, unusual plants from South Carolina,” McMillan said.

“The Natural Heritage Garden really is not just a garden of plants but it’s actually a re-creation of natural communities that we see in South Carolina so it really takes visitors through the native habitats of South Carolina, which makes it extremely unique.”

He said the area lost a “tremendous amount” of the topsoil.

“We lost at least half of the collection of plants, and really what we’re focusing on right now is trying to rescue and safeguard the plants that are left,” McMillan said.

He said the Natural Heritage Garden’s high-tech trail was erosion-resistant, but there was so much water “it literally ripped it out of the ground and destroyed it so we had $60,000 just in trail materials lost.”

The heavy rain overwhelmed the Duck Pond and spilled over the dam, McMillan said.

“A lot of trees and bushes were washed out of the ground along the trail,” he said.

The Reflection Pond along the Natural Heritage Garden trail had just been dredged as part of an Eagle Scout project and is now filled with sediment, McMillan said.

“The dam is compromised and will have to be replaced,” he said.

“We almost lost one of the very important historical structures that we have there, the Hunt Cabin, which was built in the 1820s,” McMillan said.

Floodwater threatened the foundation of the Hunt Cabin, but several tons of boulders were moved by hand to change the flow of water to direct it away from the cabin to protect its foundation, he said.

McMillan said a hiking trail called the IPO trail, which was built through a partnership between a service fraternity organization and the Botanical Garden, was “utterly” destroyed and won’t reopen.

“It’s a half-mile long trail between Cherry Road and the visitor’s center,” McMillan said.

The Botanical Garden gets between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors a year, he said.

“It’s a huge hit for something as popular as the Natural Heritage Garden trail, something that’s really energized this community and sort of catapulted the South Carolina Botanical Garden into the national spotlight in terms of the ingenuity and the loveliness of that trail, this is a huge setback for us,” McMillan said.

“We’re going to recover and we’re going to be better than ever, but it’s going to be a long and hard journey to get back there,” he said. “We’re really dedicated and hoping to have this thing completely repaired by spring of 2014 and reopen that trail.”

McMillan said the Botanical Garden is often taken for granted.

“It’s a place we take our family for a picnic, we walk our dog, we jog each morning, we come to get our prom pictures taken here or wedding photos,” he said. “Until something like this happens, we don’t think much about what it takes really to maintain and keep this place beautiful for the public.”

McMillan said they are “severely strapped” and have a small staff.

“We need help from the community,” he said.

The biggest way people can help is by donating to the garden, which can be done through the website, McMillan said.

“Even $1 going in there will help,” he said.

People can keep in touch with the garden and find out information about when help from volunteers is needed through the South Carolina Botanical Garden Facebook page, McMillan said.