Lately I’ve been reminded how much I enjoy the round-trip bike ride on the full length of the Cayce and West Columbia riverwalks.
The round trip from Cayce Tennis and Fitness Center is ideal for me. The trek requires about 80 minutes of pedal pumping on my beach cruiser, though the trip often takes longer. I stop every time at the northern end to soak in the beauty of the rocky convergence of the Broad and Saluda rivers. (I only head up the spur to U.S. 378 at the north end if I’m in need for an extra dose of aerobics.) And I often pause to admire wildlife or plants along the way or check out how changing water levels affect the scenery. No two trips are the same.
That’s why I missed my favorite ride when the section was closed for repairs during the summer and hope this time Mother Nature is friendly to the trail for a while. The most recent major repair was the third in slightly more than 10 years.
It’s hard to find fault with the City of Cayce or the section’s engineers and builders. In order to keep the trail near the water, they had to maneuver the slope of the Martin Marietta quarry. That required an 1,800-foot stretch of boardwalk supported by footings planted only a few feet above the river’s typical water level.
The section is especially fun to bike because the design creates a bit of a roller coaster effect as you go from up or down from one section of boardwalk to the next. But a boardwalk with a steep slope on one side and a river on the other is asking for problems during extreme storms or floods.
The section first opened in 2006. Four years later, a portion of the quarry bank washed down in a heavy rain, wiping out a couple of boardwalk sections. The historic 2015 flood did a number on the entire riverwalk, but the boardwalk sections were the most difficult to repair. Although a flood in February 2020 fell short of the 2015 levels, it combined with a lesser June flood to slightly undermine some boardwalk supports.
Several sections of the boardwalk began to tilt slightly to the side. Gentle ups and downs on a trail are OK, but the sideways tilts due to flooding erosion could violate Americans with Disabilities Act regulations. The entire section from the railroad trestle to Riverland Park had to be closed again to fix the tilt during the summer.
The process for permitting repairs, putting the work out for bid, and negotiating with the eventual contractor took time, and the repairs finally began in September. Boards had to be taken up in 15 boardwalks sections, and new supports sunk next to the existing ones. New rip rap (large rocks in wire mesh boxes) was installed at the base of the most erosional sections. And one section of railing had to be replaced after a limb of probably the largest cottonwood tree on the entire greenway crashed through it.
The City of Cayce deserves praise for recognizing the importance of keeping the riverwalk along the water as much as possible and pushing the trail south nearly to I-77. Cyclists and long-distance runners, especially, appreciate the connection to the Riverland Park neighborhood, and farther down to the Battlefield Connection section and the 12,000 Year History Park section (also known as Timmerman Trail). From the parking lot at the Cayce Tennis and Fitness Center to the northern end of the West Columbia Riverwalk and back is a beautiful 12.5-mile trip.
When the repairs were being done last summer, that trip required heading back out to 12th Street Extension (SC 12) to get around the railroad terminal and the quarry before heading back to the riverwalk just north of the railroad tracks. The ride was much longer, more dangerous and less attractive. Hopefully this time Mother Nature will have mercy on the boardwalk section for more than five years.