The Three Rivers Greenway is the perfect place to try out new bikes, inline skates, running shoes and even fitness trackers received as Christmas gifts. So here are few tips on which sections of the greenway best fit your gift-testing needs.
Few Christmas gifts are more memorable for a child than a bike, especially a first bike. And you’ll want to get the youngsters accustomed to riding on two wheels (or four with training wheels) close to home. But once the kids are comfortable in the driveway or neighborhood streets, the greenway is a great next step. Or at least some portions of it can be.
You might want to avoid Riverfront Park, where the steep dropoff to the Columbia Canal could be a little scary for a novice bike rider. The area around West Columbia’s amphitheater often is crowded with walkers, runners and other bikers, which can be intimidating to young cyclists. Probably the best section for new young cyclists is the Timmerman Trail (12,000 Year History Park) in Cayce. Park alongside Fort Congaree Trail just past the Cayce Tennis and Fitness Center. From there, you can start on the short section of wide gravel road or on the less wide sidewalk back to the main trail. That section of the Timmerman Trail is a nearly flat 2-mile loop with enough twists and turns to make it fun for a bike rider without being difficult. Also, if the little ones wander off the pavement, they land in flat, soft dirt. Of course, very little ones might not be up to the full two miles, and you can turn around at any point.
The same starting point works for adults with new bikes, but you’ll probably want more than the two miles of the loop. Of course, you could do the loop more than once, or you could take the Battlefield Connection section and head north. (If you start counterclockwise on the loop, the Battlefield Connection section veers off to the right just past the steel bridge over Congaree Creek). If you keep following the trail to its northern terminus and then retrace your course, you’ll cover about 12 miles. If you’re not up to 12 miles, turn around at the end of the Battlefield Connection where it heads back up the ridge to a parking lot on Old State Road. That’s about a five-mile out and back from the tennis center.
If you have a new road bike and want to cover mileage with some speed, the greenway might not be the venue. You will have to slow down for pedestrians and other cyclists. Also, if you have a new mountain bike, head to Harbison State Forest or Sesquicentennial State Park for a true trail experience. The greenway trails are paved.
If you received new walking or running shoes, the greenway will be a great place to break them in. Walkers can head just about anywhere on the greenway. If you’re more comfortable sharing the pavement with others, head to Riverfront Park in Columbia or the West Columbia Riverwalk. Those sections usually have enough foot traffic that you’ll seldom feel lonely. Bonus: If you prefer to talk with friends as you walk, the canal section of Riverfront Park is especially wide and best for walking two or three abreast. The Saluda Riverwalk (yes, it’s not officially open though it gets plenty of use) and just about any section of the Cayce Riverwalk usually have fewer users, which makes them better for contemplative walks.
I’m a 3.5-mile, 75-minute walker. My favorite greenway walks are Timmerman Trail (main loop plus Battlefield Connection down to the boat launch), the north end of Riverfront Park (parking off River Road, dropping down to the section down along the river for a mile and then back up nearly a mile on the canal path before turning back) and the Saluda Riverwalk (parking at the north end of the public portion of Candi Lane, walking to the north end of the greenway and back).
Those are also sweet runs for those who consider 3.5 miles a good workout. For longer workouts, the full out-and-back on Riverfront Park (five-mile round trip) or the full Saluda Riverwalk (about six miles out and back on the pavement, or stretch it by continuing to Boyd Island) are great options. Want some real distance? The 12-mile round trip from the Cayce Tennis and Fitness Center to the north end on the west side of the river will wear you out. There’s very little elevation change in any of these runs, unless you take the spur to U.S. 378 at the end of the West Columbia Riverwalk.
Fitness trackers/jogging strollers/inline skates
If you want to check the accuracy of your new fitness tracker, there are mile markers along the canal section at Riverfront Park.
The flat wide canal section also is ideal for trying out a new jogger stroller, though it does start with a long slope down from the parking lot at 312 Laurel Street. Warning: Don’t take your jogger stroller to the north end parking lot off River Drive. The entry is on a gravel hill that isn’t stroller friendly. By the same token, if you want to break in your new shoes while pushing a standard stroller, Riverfront Park is probably your best bet because of its wider paved path that includes a couple of feet of dirt trail on the side. It’s easier for cyclists and runners to work their way around strollers there.
All of the greenway works for inline skaters, though novice skaters might pay attention to the earlier mentions about which sections usually have more foot and bike traffic. Also, if rain has fallen recently, be careful on the Cayce Riverwalk sections where wooden bridges go over creeks. They get especially slippery when wet. Same for skateboarders, though they might want to head to the short Granby Park section (parking lot at 100 Catawba Circle). When that section heads up the ridge to the mill village, it has a series of ups and downs that might be fun on a skateboard.
And if you didn’t get any Christmas gifts that need a test run on the greenway, consider heading out to the trails as a gift to yourself.