On a recent Sunday, hundreds of people flocked to the West Columbia Riverwalk to enjoy an unseasonably cool August day. Most of the nearly 115 free parking spaces along Alexander Street and throughout the new Carraway Park were filled, and vehicles circled one section of the parking lot. The lucky ones would loop around the park and find one of the few empty spaces west of the playground.
Only a few drivers had followed the public parking signs two blocks up Court Avenue, where nearly 100 free spots beckoned in a parking garage built as part of the Brookland development. They’ll learn soon enough. The full parking solutions have been in place only since the park opened in November 2019. With Covid 19 knocking out most of the spring outdoor recreation period, fair-weather greenway users are still discovering their increased options.
Almost from the day the West Columbia Riverwalk and Amphitheater officially opened in 2002, parking posed problems. The original small parking lot near the corner of Meeting Street and Alexander Road filled early in the day, and people pulling into the already packed lot barely had space to turn around and get back out.
Frequent users learned quickly to park in the vacant lot across the street, but even that unpaved tract presented challenges, with multiple terraces and no identifiable parking pattern. And on beautiful days or when events were scheduled at the amphitheater, the dirt lot overflowed, leaving people parking, often illegally, on side streets leading up to State Street.
Then when West Columbia announced plans for the Brookland development in the lot where greenway users had been parking for years, recreation enthusiasts screamed. These sorts of confrontations seldom work out well, which makes what happened all the more surprising. A deal worked out with the Brookland developers called for a parking garage, the bottom floor of which would feature free, public spots. The city also purchased and demolished five homes in 2017 to make room for Carraway Park and its parking areas.
No solution is perfect. Preservationists and some neighbors fought the demolition of the houses. And drivers who don’t know the park layout will clog the area on those sunny but not too hot days that draw crowds to the greenway. But, the days will be rare when no legal parking spots are available within a few blocks of the amphitheater.
And here’s a little secret: There are other places to get on the greenway system, places with plenty of parking.
That same Sunday, one lonely truck sat in the 33-spot paved lot on Moffatt Street/Riverside Drive. It’s a little more difficult to find. Take Sunset Boulevard past the chicken plant, turn right on North Leaphart Street and immediately right again on Moffatt Street. It dead ends — actually changes to Riverside Drive as it curves to the dead end, though no signs make that clear – at the parking lot. From there, the greenway trail parallels the exit ramp from Jarvis Klapman Boulevard on a slope down to the picturesque section of the greenway where the Saluda and Broad rivers flirt on their way to becoming the Congaree. The slope and the aroma of the chicken plant on hot days make this a less popular place to get on the trail, but parking seldom is a problem.
Also that day, about half of the nearly 40 spots were empty in the Naples Avenue (or N Avenue) parking lot on the Cayce Riverwalk. That one is just off the intersection of N Avenue and Jessamine Street. It has the bonus of a restroom and picnic shelter at the parking lot, and other picnic tables and a shelter just down the trail at the riverfront. This lot is popular enough to fill up on nice days.
Further downstream in Cayce, greenway parking was plentiful. The 12-car gravel lot at Kelley Jones Park at Brookcliff and Riverland drives was half-filled. One car was in the 30-spot gravel lot on Old State and Taylor roads. Only 10 vehicles, most of which pulled boat trailers, were in the Newman Boat Landing lot that can hold nearly 90 vehicles. The greenway runs through the edge of that lot off Old State Road.
At the south end of the greenway, only a scattering of cars were in 164 spaces in the paved Cayce Tennis and Fitness Center lot on Fort Congaree Trail. A hundred yards or so down that road, probably another 100 vehicles could fit in the gravel lot at the entrance to the 12,000 Year History Park trailhead of the Timmerman Trail. And back closer to 12th Street Extension at the entrance to Timmerman Trail, 21 vehicles more than halfway filled the gravel lot on Otarre Parkway (which might still be SCANA Parkway on some maps).
Unfortunately, the section of the Cayce Riverwalk just north of Kelley Jones Park was closed for construction that day (and will be through at least late October). But even with that section shut down, the parking lots on Moffatt Street and N Avenue provide access to the same linear park as the crowded parking spaces at the West Columbia Amphitheater. And when that section opens back up, the bike ride from the south end of the Cayce Riverwalk/Timmerman Trail to the north end of the West Columbia Riverwalk and back is a relaxing 12-mile trip, with plenty of parking at the south end.
Also, on the Columbia side of the rivers, the Riverfront Park lot at the south end of the Columbia Canal section of the greenway has more than 200 spots and is seldom full. Another 35 or so vehicles can squeeze into the dirt parking lot at the north end of the canal section, down a dirt road off River Drive just before it crosses the river.
(Yes, this post ignored the parking situation at the officially unopened Saluda Riverwalk on Candi Lane. More on that in a future post.)