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Welcome to On The Greenway, an exploration of all things related to the Three Rivers Greenway in the Midlands of South Carolina. It could be called About The Greenway since the individual items will have some connection to the trail system along the Saluda, Broad, and Congaree rivers. It could be Along The Greenway, At The Greenway, or Of The Greenway. But On The Greenway seems to better fit the blog’s overriding goal of helping users — whether long-time fans or newbies — build an appreciation of the system and get out ON it.

First, a little history. The greenway story began in 1994 when local leaders recognized the need to foster use and appreciation of the scenic waterways that flow through our communities. That led to the formation of The River Alliance, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing residents and visitors closer to those 90 miles of waterways, whether physically, economically, or emotionally. It’s been a slow slog of community-infused planning, fund-raising, and construction. While the effort features important tourism, historical and economic development components, its lifeblood is recreation on the 12.5 miles of linear trails constructed in a quarter of a century, and on the rivers that make those trails so spectacular.

Many residents probably don’t know about The River Alliance, but they know about the Three Rivers Greenway trails. Or they might not even recognize them as Three Rivers Greenway trails, but as the Columbia Canal walkway at Riverfront Park, or the West Columbia or Cayce Riverwalks, or Timmerman Trail. One thing is clear, though, people are utilizing those paved paths on foot or using bikes, inline skates, skateboards, or wheelchairs. Sections of the canal walkway and around the West Columbia Amphitheatre can feel crowded at peak times on beautiful days. But solitude can be found; you just have to know where to carve out your quiet place. Future editions of the OTG blog will look at how to manage crowded situations or where to head for relative solitude.

Regardless of your recreation preference, whether walking with friends or fishing alone from a shady riverbank, getting out in nature is critical for your health. Researchers increasingly are revealing the scientific validity of the curative powers of spending time in natural areas. It’s all in our heads. Eva Selhub and Alan Logan detail the research in “Your Brain on Nature: The Science of Nature’s Influence on Your Health, Happiness, and Vitality.” When research volunteers hooked up to brain-wave monitors are shown nature views, an anterior region of the brain high in opioid receptors becomes particularly active. A riverfront trail really is a physiological happy place. These findings dovetail with studies that revealed a 40-minute walk in a forest, or even a window in a room with a natural view, can improve mood, increase vigor, and reduce stress. Much of the leading research in this field has been done in Japan, growing out of a health movement called shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing. Mix in a little river bathing, and you have the Three Rivers Greenway.

I’ve been writing about and recreating on the Three Rivers Greenway since before the trails were paved. As a reporter at The State in the late 1990s, I attended a series of meetings at Riverbanks Zoo that brought together leaders of local municipalities, businesses, and regulatory agencies as well as members of the general public. They set a course for the future greenway, and the optimistic goal was to connect downtown Columbia with the Lake Murray dam in the next decade. Before leaving the newspaper in 2015, I had written about the many obstacles that waylaid that goal, as well as the notable progress along the way. I walked around many construction signs (OK, I trespassed) to explore burgeoning trails at Granby Park, along sections of the Cayce and West Columbia Riverwalks, and the Saluda River Greenway. And when they officially opened, I used them often, whether walking, biking, or launching my kayak.

Since I retired from a state agency job in May, I have hit the trails at least four times a week. As a frequent user, I think I can help others best utilize the trail system. I also have some of the same questions as other greenway advocates, and I plan to get those answers. (The ongoing challenge of officially opening the Saluda Riverwalk will be the subject of future blog entries.) This is a labor of love. I appreciate The River Alliance posting my ramblings on their Three Rivers Greenway website, but I have no financial obligation to that organization. Mike Dawson, The River Alliance’s executive director, has pledged he won’t try to tell me what to write. He might submit blog ideas, but so could any reader. We will monitor comments on the website, and I will respond to comments on my personal email at [email protected]

A quarter-century after the origin of the greenway system, large hurdles remain on the downtown-to-dam connection, including a pedestrian bridge over the Broad River and a couple of stretches along the Saluda River. But what has been completed is worth celebrating, and this blog will do that.