In an effort to improve recreational usage of the Edisto River, Orangeburg County is seeking to develop a master plan of the river's access points within the county.
"There are not many cities that have a river run through it from the aspect I thought we were under utilizing," Sen. John Matthews said. "It could create a destination point that we consider something to do with it and still not damage the Edisto River."
"Be authentic and let the Edisto River be the Edisto River," Matthews said.
The proposed master plan would seek to provide an overview of current public and private river access points through mapping in an effort to improve usage of the Edisto.
Matthews said both he and Sen. Brad Hutto decided improving access to Orangeburg's natural resource would be the best use of the funds the county receives from the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Water Recreation Resource Fund.
These funds, of which Orangeburg County will receive about $500,000, are derived from a portion of the state gas tax and are earmarked for improving use and accessibility to the state’s public waterways. Each of South Carolina’s 46 counties receives a portion of this fund based on the number of registered boats per county.
Grant monies will also be sought to leverage those monies as part of the project.
"We're looking for public input for what the public would like to see to better utilize the river (whether it be) parks or additional landings or improvements to existing landings," Orangeburg County Planning Director Richard Hall said. "We have a pretty good group of canoers and kayakers that like to be on the river. One of the things I heard (is that) they look for places just to camp. There is not a lot of them."
Hall said the Ness landing improvements are an example of what the county has in mind. This boat landing has seen the installation of cameras, fencing and trash cans.
"I have no interest in commercializing the river," Matthews said. "It is not economic but improving access."
While Orangeburg County has set aside some of the one cent capital projects sales tax monies on river improvements, DNR funds need to be spent on strictly water-related improvements, such as boat landings and docks.
Capital projects sales tax monies would go more toward picnic tables and campsites, Hall said.
The City of Orangeburg will also partner with the county in the project.
The Edisto has often been touted by county officials and the local legislative delegation as a "jewel" for the Orangeburg area.
About 120 miles of the river (North and South forks) flow through Orangeburg County. The river at 250 miles in total is one of the longest free-flowing black water rivers in North America.
In addition to the master plan creation, the second phase of a river clean-up will get underway with a physical inventory and assessment of the current condition of about 30 miles of the river from the Glover Street landing to Branchville at U.S. Highway 21.
The assessment, conducted by engineering firm Johnson Laschober and Associates, is expected to take a couple of months, with the cleanup occurring later this summer.
The impetus for river cleanup came in the wake of the 2014 ice storm, the historic 2015 flood and 2016's Hurricane Matthew.
The first cleanup phase, also coordinated by Johnson Laschober and Associates, was conducted in late fall of 2017 after a summer assessment of a 10-mile stretch of the river. This cleanup effort entailed the stretch from Baughman's Landing to the City of Orangeburg's Glover Street landing.
The cleanup efforts utilized GIS mapping to identify river blockages, which are marked for easy identification. In the first phase, more than 50 blockages were identified that prevented recreational use of the river.
The first cleanup cost approximately $70,000. The cost of the second cleanup will be contingent upon the extent of the work involved.
County Administrator Harold Young said the technology used for the river assessment in the first phase of the cleanup was the reason for its success.
"They went out and when they saw an obstruction, they not only flagged it, but GPS'ed it, took pictures, coordinated it," Young said. "When a vendor comes in to do the removal, the vendor has GPS coordinates to go to the obstruction."
JLA engineer Herbert W. Gilliam said the river cleanup has focused on the parts of the river most impacted by the weather disasters.
"What we heard from people like the Friends of the Edisto is that the 10-mile stretch was the worst," Gilliam said. "We are hoping to have less blockages (over the next phase)."
Mother Nature also damaged the Edisto Memorial Gardens boardwalk during the 2015 floods. The 2,700-foot boardwalk from the waterwheel beyond remains closed to the public.
The city has applied for a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant, which can be a process that takes years to come to fruition.