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December brought the first new concrete in a while on the Saluda Riverwalk, a small section leading from the steel bridge to Boyd Island at the east end of the trail.

The concrete portion of the trail on the island itself has been complete for months, but the mainland connection to the bridge remained unpaved (and often muddy).

That section of the original trail design goes through a CSX railroad right-of-way along the rail bridge trestles. CSX officials are worried about swarms of people being that close to the raised rail line. One potential solution involved building a covered walkway similar to two sections of the Cayce Riverwalk that pass under railroad bridges. But the easier solution was to move the riverwalk’s route slightly farther from the rail line. That entails building a boardwalk over a section of rock riprap designed to prevent erosion of the water’s edge. The River Alliance applied for and was granted a permit for construction of that boardwalk section, and the county is ready to move forward with the work. The new section of concrete walkway poured in December leaves only the section of boardwalk over the riprap to be built.         

The connection should make it easier for people to enjoy the island, which provides a gorgeous view of the confluence of the Broad and Saluda rivers. Plenty of people already have ignored the small sign marking the temporary end of the greenway and continued to Boyd Island, enticed by the hard-to-miss bridge. One weekend last summer, I saw a group of about 20 people who had set up portable grills on the small dirt beach that forms at the tip of the island when the river is at low levels.

In recent months, distinctive picnic tables and benches sprouted on the island. The stone and metal structures are among the planned amenities financed by the Boyd Family Foundation. Eventually, a small pavilion will be built in the center of the island. About 18 feet in circumference, the pavilion is designed to be the site of small meetings or educational sessions on the river environment or history. Stuyck Company, a local metal fabricator, created the picnic tables and will work on the pavilion.

Built with county sales tax money devoted to transportation projects, most of the three-mile Saluda Riverwalk has been essentially completed for months, and people have been flocking to it. Richland County will turn the park over to the City of Columbia to operate, but the two governments have been kicking legal technicalities back and forth on the handover for months. The riverwalk was among topics discussed in an executive session of city council in December. While the county and city dicker over details, the city parks staff has been maintaining the trail. The parking lot gate remains closed, and the park itself is not officially open.

The plan is for the greenway eventually to extend north under the railroad bridge and continue briefly along the west bank of the Broad River before crossing on a pedestrian bridge to the Riverfront Park trail on the east side of the river.

On another front, the proposed connection on the Saluda River from the completed Saluda Riverwalk to the Lake Murray dam is the subject of a new feasibility study put together by Central Midlands Council of Governments and Irmo Chapin Recreation Commission. The full study will be available in January, and a brief video on the project already is available on YouTube.

But that’s the long term. In the short term, it appears the already built section of the Saluda Riverwalk might officially open sometime in 2021.