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Millions flow into recreation, parks spaces across region

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The Ashley River Park in Dorchester County is an 85-acre greenspace with walking trails, dog parks, fishing pond and a number of other facilities near the Ashley River. (Photo/Provided)By Jenny Peterson
Contributing Writer

Tens of millions of dollars are being invested in parks and recreational spaces in the Lowcountry: $13 million in Dorchester County, $5.5 million in Mount Pleasant and $8 million in North Charleston.  

More projects come down the line every year as municipalities purchase land to develop parks, including an additional $45 million slated for regional projects in 2022.

Even before the pandemic, the emphasis on parks and greenspace in the Lowcountry was picking up and finding support, said Lee Gastley, managing principal and landscape architect at Seamon Whiteside civil engineering and landscape architecture firm.

“There has been a better appreciation of parks in that they have really come to the forefront,” Gastley said.

The development of parks and recreational spaces is big business, in both the public and private sector. Engineering firms have even created specialty areas within their firm for developing these types of spaces.

“If a neighborhood is built today without a park component, then the return on investment is not going to be as high,” said Steve Dudash, landscape architect, urban planner and regional director of Thomas & Hutton civil engineering firm. “In the last five to 10 years, it’s been market-driven in that people want access to parks. It was trending up, but when COVID hit, it went exponential.”

Notable projects slated to open in 2022 include the Ashley River Park, a $13 million 85-acre public park in Dorchester County along the Ashley River, adjacent to Bacons Bridge Road. The riverfront property will feature trails, a fishing pond, pavilion, picnic shelters, playground, splash fountain, dog parks, ropes course, climbing wall, festival lawn and kayak launch.

Another recreational project is the $8 million Battery Park Pedestrian Bridge in North Charleston which will connect Riverfront Park to future development on the northside of Noisette Creek.

“You can feel that everyone is just chomping at the bit for these spaces,” Dudash said.

Planners said an emerging trend in the parks space is incorporating event spaces that can add to the city’s revenue stream.

North Charleston announced that Battery Park Pedestrian Bridge will allow for small outdoor weddings. The Ashley River Park will also have a “significant event component” for gatherings with opportunities to rent space, Gastley said.

“An important consideration with a lot of public entities is designing facilities that can be revenue generators in and of themselves — not only serving their population, but other populations,” Gastley said.

Another emerging trend in the parks space is adding dog parks.

“If we’re doing any kind of larger park, almost one hundred percent (guarantee) a dog park is a component of it,” Gastley said.

Pickleball courts are also being added to recreational spaces. Four pickleball courts are included in Phase III of the development of Mount Pleasant Memorial Waterfront Park, a $5.5 million project, slated to be complete in 2024.

More recreational projects are coming down the line over the next few years. A 50-acre tract in Hanahan along Henry Brown Boulevard will transform into a multi-use park with fields and courts, nature trails and event space.

At its October city council meeting, North Charleston passed a resolution to purchase 13 acres on Patriot’s Boulevard across from the North Charleston Aquatic Center. Plans include adding outdoor soccer fields and a senior center, according to TJ Rostin, recreation director.

“As the new year hits, we will begin to plan and design for that,” Rostin said.

North Charleston additionally approved $45 million to update its Park Circle recreational facility and Danny Jones recreational complex, Rostin said. The Park Circle facility will double in size, adding a Miracle League-type baseball field, an inclusive playground and parking.

The Danny Jones facility improvements will completely replace the existing pool and basketball gym, Rostin said.

The nearby town of Summerville and Nexton neighborhood continue to add more green space and trails.

Planners said challenges involved with developing parks include getting necessary permits near waterways.  

“Permitting is always a challenge,” Gastley said. “They’ve got some great people in permitting, but there’s just not enough of them, and that makes it difficult to get permits in a timely manner. You want to bring a park online as soon as you can, and for a lot of these parks, it can take up to 10 months to a year just to get the permits. For a 25 or 30-acre park, between the design process and the permitting process and the bidding process, it's reasonable to expect anywhere from a year-and-a-half to two years before construction can start.”

Another challenge is that full funding is not always available for a project. Some public projects are contingent on referendums, which is why some parks get built in phases based on an overall master plan.

“There are a lot of disciplines involved in developing any kind of park — geotechnical engineers, arborists, architects, structural engineers and mechanical engineers. There’s a tremendous amount of grading and drainage that goes into developing appropriate sports fields,” Gastley said. “COVID spurred people to recognize the importance of natural areas. I’m hopeful that this new appreciation of what parks can bring to a wider audience is going to be beneficial for the construction of parks in the future.” 

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