Though modern structures line both sides, the river that runs through West Columbia still evokes a timeless sense.
Moving across the clean, clear water on the soothing rapids, with the scenic beauty and the smell of the outdoors, it’s easy to imagine how others from generations before must have felt as they gathered where the three rivers converge.
Today, that site is home to West Columbia’s Riverwalk. Its official name is the Wyman M. “Mac” Rish Riverwalk and Amphitheater.
“These three rivers have always been vital to life,” said West Columbia Mayor Bobby Horton, in reference to where the Saluda and Broad rivers meet, to form the Congaree,
And because of the importance of the river, Horton said it is imperative to provide entry points to the city’s most valued natural resource. And nowhere is access to the river more available than it is in West Columbia.
“We don’t have a beach, the ocean, or the mountains, but we have this river. And there are so many recreational activities available on the river,” said Horton. “And we want to share the river as much as we can.”
Horton said he’s pleased that so many local citizens come to the river so frequently. He also said the river is an attraction for out-of-town visitors.
“The river offers so much,” he said.
Gregg Pinner, president and CEO of the Greater Cayce-West Columbia Chamber of Commerce and John Banks, the Chamber’s Tourism director said access to the river has been a game-changer.
Banks said West Columbia’s river access is a “huge advantage” in the effort to attract tourists. “It’s our No. 1 asset,” said Banks. “People come for the river sports and then they can enjoy our restaurants and the antique district.”
He said Riverwalk attracts a high-volume of out-of-town visitors and guests from all around the region.
Pinner said offering river access has had a far-reaching affect.
“We used to be divided from the other side of the river,” he said. “Riverwalk has eliminated that divide. It has changed the perception and helped foster strong and positive relationships.”
Pinner also said the Chamber’s Rhythm on the River spring and fall concerts at the Riverwalk Amphitheater are possible because city leaders had the insight to develop access to the river.
Pinner and Banks also pointed out that Riverwalk is safe because the City of West Columbia places a ranger in the river to patrol it.
It has not always been that way.
Many in West Columbia, who were reared on the banks of the river, will tell you that the river was a big part of their lives in their formative years. But kudzu and undergrowth were a barrier.
Former West Columbia Councilman Eric Fowler, who retired from council in 2015, grew up in West Columbia’s New Brookland Mill Village. Both of his parents – like so many others- were employees of the Mt. Vernon Mill. Fowler said he remembers going to the Dixie movie theater on State Street as a child in the 1940s to see cowboy movies.
In the 1950s, Fowler was overseas in the Navy during the Korean War. When he was away, Fowler said many times his mind would wander to his house on Carpenter Street.
Fowler also said, growing up, he had the Congaree River next to his home, as a playground.
“I remember boys, bigger than me, when I was a child, in the river pulling out cannon balls,” Fowler said. Those cannon balls were said to be a product of The Civil War bombardment of Columbia from the river’s banks.
The river as a focal point in West Columbia has not changed, but the use of the resource is evolving.
Michael Mayo has operated Palmetto Outdoors for more than 10 years. The business offers tubing and kayaking excursions down the river. Riverwalk is a loading point. Mayo said he was a taught a respect for the river by his father when he was a child.
The river has enabled Mayo’s life’s work. He has spoken in front of West Columbia City Council and told them that people come from Ohio, New York, Florida, and many other states, to West Columbia, in order to enjoy a float down the river.
He also conducts education tours along Riverwalk for Lexington School District Two students in the late fall and winter, outside of tubing season.
Mayo is just one example. Horton said there is so much positive that has flowed from the vision of West Columbia’s leadership to make its piece of the river available to so many.
Written by Terry Ward. For the entire story: http://westmetronews.net/river-west-columbias-valuable-asset/