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Gills Creek neighbors have mixed reactions to proposed greenway

Hundreds of people attended a public input meeting Thursday on a proposed greenway along Gills Creek in Columbia. Here, many of them raise their hands to indicate their support of the greenway.
Hundreds of people attended a public input meeting Thursday on a proposed greenway along Gills Creek in Columbia. Here, many of them raise their hands to indicate their support of the greenway. sellis@thestate.com

Will Gettys worries about his family’s security with a public greenway running right behind his house along Gills Creek. But Rachel Larratt believes the same greenway could be a revitalizing force for her neighborhood as it recovers from the devastation wrought when the creek flooded last October.

Hundreds of neighbors of Gills Creek attended a meeting to give their input on a proposed greenway that could stretch from the southern tip of Lake Katherine to Bluff Road. It stands to affect hundreds of residents whose homes suffered badly four months ago when floodwaters gushed from Gills Creek, particularly in the neighborhoods near Lake Katherine, behind Woodland Park off Garners Ferry Road and off South Beltline Boulevard.

The proposed greenway, one of three along Gills Creek included in the Richland County transportation penny sales tax program passed by voters in 2012, could include boardwalks, picnic areas and overlook decks, among other possible features. It was planned before the creek and its connected man-made lakes overflowed in October.

The concept of the greenway “sounds great on paper,” said Gettys, who lives on Burwell Lane, where Gills Creek runs parallel just below the base of Lake Katherine.

“But in reality, I question whether it can actually work,” Gettys said. “They say it’ll be patrolled, it’ll be secure, whatever. But it doesn’t make me feel any safer because I can’t secure my own yard (from the greenway traffic).”

Further south along the creek, Michael O’Neill, who lives on Hampton Leas Lane, in one of the Hampstons neighborhoods off Garners Ferry Road, said the greenway concept is “dumb on multiple levels.”

He’d rather see the wildlife in the wooded areas around the creek left wild, he said. He also noted concerns about inviting unwanted people traffic in his quiet neighborhood.

“I’m sure they think they’re doing it for the community, but from my point of view, the community doesn’t want it,” O’Neill said.

One reason many people have expressed displeasure with the concept of the greenway is that it’s being presented at a time when the county is still recovering from the flood and people see other, more pressing priorities they want the county to address, said Elliott Powell, who lives on the northeastern side of Lake Katherine.

But the penny tax money can only be used for roads, buses and trails, not cleanup.

Powell, a former chairman of the Gills Creek Watershed Association, said the greenway will be a positive project both for the people in the area of the creek and for the creek itself.

“Greenways, trails into the wooded areas where the creek is not healthy, in our opinion, brings attention to the creek, gives people a sense of ownership,” Powell said.

Larratt, who lives in the badly flooded neighborhood off South Beltline, stood with Powell in support of the greenway.

“We would love to have a beautification effort, something to help revitalize our neighborhood that makes sense and works with the creek and the water,” she said.

Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.

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