Making connections: A new trail will link Lake Conestee Nature Park to a former municipal landfill. Here’s the plan.

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Following its annexation into the city limits, Lake Conestee Nature Park is planning to connect its 12-mile trail network to the nearby site of a former municipal landfill. 

Dave Hargett, founder and executive director of the Conestee Foundation, the nonprofit that owns and manages the nature park, said work is well underway to establish a single trail connection between Lake Conestee and several service roads on the former landfill property. 

The 100-acre landfill, located at 684 Mauldin Road, was closed by the city of Greenville in 1995 when the county opened its Enoree Landfill Subtitle D portion to handle municipal solid waste, according to Greenville Public Works Director Mike Murphy. That site was closed in 2007 when the county built its Twin Chimneys Landfill along Augusta Road. 

Hargett said the connection between the former landfill site and Lake Conestee will ultimately lead to a series of one-way trails with observation points. 

“The initial pilot phase will include a little over a mile of their roads. So an out-and-back track from our trailhead at Conestee Park could be about 2.25 miles,” he said. “These initial opportunities reflect a phased plan but will be welcomed by our very active birding community and lots of folks who want to get their daily steps in away from pavement and surrounded by our green infrastructure.”

Hargett added that the connection is expected to open sometime this spring or summer, but its completion depends on approvals and trail-building activities. 

Lake Conestee also plans to install signage throughout the former landfill, marking which areas of the site are safe for visitors to access and which areas are unsafe, according to Hargett.

“These rules must be strictly complied with, or we may not be able to sustain the program. This is not a playground,” he said. “Folks will have to stay on trail, not wander around. These trails will be accessible to hikers and walkers only, at least for the first pilot phase of the program.”

There are about 90,000 to 100,000 closed municipal landfills in the United States, according to a study published in the journal Ground Monitoring and Remediation. The sites are considered potential sources of contamination to surrounding groundwater and surface water. These contaminants consist of household and industrial compounds in wastes and consumer products, including pharmaceuticals, cleaning agents, fire retardants, perfumes, pesticides, and more. Although they generally occur in small concentrations in water, these contaminants may cause health problems for humans and wildlife if ingested.

Murphy said the city monitors for increased levels of contamination at the former landfill site along Mauldin Road at least twice a year via 10 groundwater monitoring stations. 

While the site’s contamination levels are currently in compliance with regulations set by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, one of its former dump areas is still emitting trace amounts of methane, according to Murphy.

Methane is one of several gases produced when bacteria break down organic waste at landfills, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The colorless, odorless gas can cause reduced coordination, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and unconsciousness if present at levels sufficient to create an oxygen-deficient environment.

Murphy said the former municipal landfill site along Mauldin Road is subject to a 30-year post-closure management plan under the supervision of SCDHEC. The city is required to report the site’s contamination levels to the state for at least another decade under the plan, which was established in 1999. The city is currently exploring ways to transform the former landfill into a public green space once the site is cleared by the state. 

Hargett said Lake Conestee will assist the city in “making suitable portions of the landfill more diverse and attractive to wildlife” as part of its upcoming trail expansion. 

“We have talked with Clemson [University] and other conservation partners about the possibility of doing some plantings of pollinator species to include wildflowers and native grasses. These areas may potentially reduce the maintenance mowing required in those areas,” he said. “We also anticipate the opportunity to do extensive tree planting in some areas of the property to diversify the edges and forests surrounding the site, and to help the city with address non-native invasive species such as kudzu and privet.”

As for the future, Hargett said subsequent phases of Lake Conestee’s trail expansion may include an extension north along the Reedy River, and possibly another pedestrian bridge to cross the river and connect to the park’s northern properties.

Located along 4 miles of the Reedy River, Lake Conestee encompasses more than 400 acres of natural habitat, including extensive wetlands, riparian forests, upland hardwoods, and meadows, according to Hargett. About 100,000 people visit the nature park every year to hike and enjoy other outdoor activities.

Hargett and others launched the Conestee Foundation in 1998 to acquire and rehabilitate Lake Conestee into a public green space. The park, which opened in 2006, was annexed by the Greenville City Council in November of last year.

“Our aim is to position LCNP [Lake Conestee Nature Park] to become a regionally renowned nature park, and an example of synergy between public and private interests,” Hargett told the Greenville Journal last year. “These partnerships will enable us to continue to grow and deliver an extraordinary nature park with exceptional educational and recreational programming, at the center of metropolitan Greenville.”

For more information, visit www.lakeconesteenaturepark.com

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