Year in Review: The Top 5 Environment and Outdoor Stories of 2018

Jones Gap State Park. Photo provided to the Greenville Journal by Mac Stone/Naturaland Trust.

A new project aims to improve the Reedy River’s water quality. One of the Upstate’s most-popular state parks is getting an expansion. And local veterans are finding healing through fly-fishing. The year 2018 has seen no shortage of news related to Mother Nature.

Here are the Greenville Journal’s top environment and outdoor stories of the year:

Greenville’s premier waterway is getting a makeover

Ohio-based urban design and landscape architecture firm MKSK has been hired by the city of Greenville to create a more natural course for the Reedy River by sculpting the banks of a 30-foot channel that runs through West Greenville. Officials say the project could provide a boost to the river’s water quality and alleviate flooding farther downstream in downtown. Photo by Will Crooks/Greenville Journal.

Despite its recent status as a downtown attraction, the Reedy River historically has been one of the most polluted waterways in South Carolina.

Once the dumping ground for local textile mills, the upper portion of the 65-mile-long river is said to have changed colors daily, depending on which dyes mills were using to color fabrics, according to Greenville Mayor Knox White.

But now the city has launched a project to improve the river’s water quality and reduce flooding that has long been a concern for downtown.

As part of Unity Park’s construction in West Greenville, Ohio-based urban design and landscape architecture firm MKSK plans to expand the park’s active floodplain by excavating a bankfull bench, which is a flat or shallowly sloped area above the water level, along a 30-foot river channel that runs through the heart of the property.

The restoration project along the channel is expected to slow floodwater along the Reedy and decrease the risk of flooding farther downstream in downtown.

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Jones Gap State Park expanding with 680-acre donation

Jones Gap State Park officially opened in January 1989. Today, it boasts nearly 4,000 acres of land that’s home to more than 600 kinds of wildflowers and 60 types of mammals. Photo courtesy of Mac Stone Photography.

One of the most popular state parks in the Upstate could soon get more hiking trails and campgrounds thanks to a local environmental group.

Naturaland Trust, a Greenville-based nonprofit organization dedicated to the conservation of land and other natural resources throughout the Upstate, announced on Aug. 14 the donation of 680 acres to Jones Gap State Park in northern Greenville County.

The nonprofit’s donation includes property along the South Carolina-North Carolina line that borders Jones Gap State Park and another piece that was recently acquired through private donations, according to a news release.

Mac Stone, executive director of Naturaland Trust, said the donated land would ultimately act as a connector between Jones Gap State Park and Gap Creek, a 955-acre tract along the South Carolina-North Carolina border that was donated to the state park system last year by the Greenville office of The Nature Conservancy, a nonprofit conservation group headquartered in Washington, D.C.

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Once neglected, Lake Conestee has become a bird sanctuary

Lake Conestee Nature Park trail entrance. Photo by Will Crooks/Greenville Journal

Greenville’s Lake Conestee Nature Park is home to 219 bird species and serves as the wintering ground of South Carolina’s largest reported population of rusty blackbirds, which are listed as a “vulnerable species” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, according to Dave Hargett, the park’s founder.

In 2011, the National Audubon Society and Bird Life International designated Lake Conestee Nature Park as an “Important Bird Area” for its global significance to rusty blackbirds, according to Hargett.

The Important Bird Areas Program is a global initiative that aims to identify and conserve areas that are vital to birds and other biodiversity by setting science-based priorities for habitat protection, he said.

Now, seven years later, Lake Conestee Nature Park is partnering with Audubon South Carolina to bolster its conservation efforts. 

Hargett said the partnership with Audubon South Carolina not only adds another credential to Lake Conestee Nature Park’s list of conservation achievements, but also allows the two organizations to “collaborate with one another, and with allied conservation agencies and organizations, to identify opportunities for cooperative work on mutually beneficial bird and wildlife conservation projects and activities.”

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Upstate veterans discover the healing power of fly-fishing

Chuck Rouse, program lead for Project Healing Waters Upstate. Photo by Will Crooks/Greenville Journal

Local veterans who are struggling with mental and physical disabilities are finding peace through fly-fishing, thanks to Project Healing Waters.

The Maryland-based nonprofit, which began in 2005 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, is “dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active military service personnel and disabled veterans through fly-fishing and associated activities.”

From tying flies to building fly rods, Project Healing Waters teaches participants the basics of fly-fishing. All equipment is provided at no cost. The nonprofit also hosts free daylong and overnight fishing expeditions. It operates 216 programs across 46 states, including South Carolina. More than 8,000 veterans participated in Project Healing Waters in 2017, according to the organization’s annual report.

Chuck Rouse, who oversees the Project Healing Waters program in the Upstate, said fly-fishing often provides disabled veterans a welcome distraction from their troubles. He leads two instructional events each month in Greenville. He and several volunteers teach newcomers how to tie flies, an artificial lure that fishermen create to imitate natural insects and entice fish, and even build rods. The program also sponsors casting classes and hosts about 10 fishing expeditions each year in the Carolinas and Georgia.

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Protecting water at its source

Greenville Water employee Henry Poole is managing several conservation projects in the Table Rock and North Saluda watersheds. Photo by Will Crooks/Greenville Journal

As other parts of the country struggle to find adequate supplies of clean water, Greenville has abundant, and comparatively clean, water resources. The city’s tap water routinely meets state and federal regulations, and it has even been named the “best-tasting” water in South Carolina and the country.

So why does the city have such high-quality drinking water? It begins with safeguarding the 30,000 acres of forested watersheds that surround the North Saluda and Table Rock reservoirs, which have provided millions of gallons of drinking water to Greenville residents since the 1930s.

Located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in northern Greenville County, these forest systems play an important, yet often overlooked, role in protecting the public water supply, according to Henry Poole, watershed manager for Greenville Water, the city’s water utility.

Now he’s developing a number of conservation measures within the watersheds, including a long-term project to monitor salamander populations.

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