History of Friends of the Reedy River
Greenville’s “hometown river” has been an important natural resource, utilized and valued by people who have admired its scenic beauty and relied on its water for power, sustenance, and inspiration for hundreds of years. With the textile industry’s expansion in the 20th century, the river was a catch basin for discharged dyes and chemicals, and the river had fallen into a deep decline.
In 1993 two concerned citizens, Dr. Tom Tiller and Mr. Ben Geer Keys, saw this greatly degraded river and decided to act. Friends of the Reedy River (FoRR) was formed. Through the years many environmentalist “movers and shakers” contributed to the success of FoRR. This roster is a Who’s Who of our local environmental community:
- Brad Wyche: Founder of Upstate Forever. Recently retired.
- Frank Holleman: Attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. Recently successfully argued for the removal of coal ash ponds in NC and SC after the major environmental catastrophe of spilled coal ash into the Dan River in NC in 2015. Also President of Naturaland Trust, a conservation land trust.
- Dave Hargett: Executive Director of the Conestee Nature Foundation.
- Tom Kester: Treasurer of the Conestee Nature Foundation.
- Jeff Beacham: President of the SC Native Plant Society and principal with Greenfield’s Consortium.
- Anna Kate Hipp: Board member and supporter of Trees Greenville and the Carolina Foothills Garden Club.
- Rob Hanley- Environmental consultant and elected chair of the Greenville County Soil and Water Conservation District.
20 Years of Accomplishments
Colonial Pipeline transports fuel and is owned by a consortium of oil companies. In June 1996, one pipeline ruptured and spilled almost a million gallons of fuel oil into the Reedy River. As a violation of the Clean Water Act, a settlement was reached in 1998 which awarded $6.5M to the state of SC. The SC Attorney General requested that the settlement funds be deposited into the state’s General Fund – where none of it would be spent on the Reedy. FoRR led a public campaign to keep a portion of the settlement to benefit the Reedy.
Because of Friend’s efforts, these settlement funds made possible extraordinary additions to our community.
- Greenville County Parks and Recreation purchased the original parcels of land that now comprise Lake Conestee Nature Park & Cedar Shoals Park on Sulphur Springs Road
- The Cliff Pitts Wildlife Management area near Boyd Mill Pond in Laurens County.
- The purchase of conservation easements and land
- Monitoring and modeling of the Reedy River’s water quality and assessment of the recovery of the river after the spill
- Improved public access to the Reedy for recreation
- Installation of waterfowl nesting structures
- Environmental education program to reduce stormwater runoff
WCRSA TRUNK LINE
FoRR was a leader in protecting the riparian forest along the Reedy River when Western Carolina Regional Sewer Authority (now ReWa) proposed a new sewer trunk line. Because of FoRR’s efforts, the sewer line was rerouted to avoid removal of the hardwood trees along the river behind the Cleveland Street offices. FoRR led the campaign to save the trees and worked with the sewer authority to reduce the phosphorus content of the water.
LONG BRANCH RESTORATION
When the Southern Connector toll road was built around 1998, the owners were required to diminish the negative environmental impacts on the streams and wetlands that the road would disturb. FoRR was instrumental in keeping the mitigation project in Greenville County rather than in the Midlands or low country. The mitigation efforts resulted in the restoration of portions of Long Branch Creek where it runs into the Reedy River in downtown Greenville. Long Branch Creek is a highly urbanized stream that flows through the Woodside Community before draining to the Reedy.
FoRR wrote a Paddler’s Guide to the Reedy River and planned field trips to help reconnect people to the Reedy River.
FoRR held the initial conservation easements on the parcels of land which now comprise Linky Stone Park. These are now in the process of being transferred to Upstate Forever.
FoRR was instrumental in the acquisition, restoration, and preservation of key portions of land bordering the river that are now part of the Swamp Rabbit Trail. The area between Woodland Way and Faris Road was identified early on as a location for a bike trail and FoRR worked with the city on the original rails-to-trails which eventually became the SRT. Ironically, now our designated Woodland Way Corridor!
FoRR collaborated with the city on the early vision for Falls Park and supported the removal of the Camperdown Bridge during that controversial decision.
Other areas in which Friends has been influential are Rotary Park, Poinsett Park, and the shoals which will now be part of the Cancer Survivor’s Park.
INCUBATOR FOR OTHER NONPROFITS
FoRR’s efforts helped launch significant conservation organizations – including Upstate Forever, a nonprofit that promotes sensible growth and protects special places in the Upstate region of South Carolina, and the Conestee Foundation, the nonprofit that manages Lake Conestee Nature Park.
PROTECTING STRATEGIC LAND
When Lowe’s chose to build on Poinsett Highway along a tributary of the Reedy, Friends worked closely with Lowe’s to ensure that the wetlands and creek behind the construction were remediated to diminish the damage to natural areas caused by the construction. Here we reduced the impact of the footprint of the development, preserved a buffer along the stream, restored a section of the stream, and re-forested the 20-acre site.
FoRR convinced the city not to develop 2 acres on Partridge Lane on the Reedy, which will now be part of the extension of Cleveland Park together with the former horse stable. In 2013 FoRR honored Jill Cox as the 2013 Friend of the Reedy River for her crucial efforts to preserve the floodplain on which the stables now stand.
Before Upstate Forever became the region’s foremost institution promoting the permanent conservation of natural land in Greenville County, FoRR was instrumental in securing the ownership of land along the river to protect it and to also manage conservation easements to protect those lands from development. As Friends no longer needs to fill that niche, we have transferred our land to Naturaland Trust and are in negotiations to transfer the conservation easements to Upstate Forever.
ADVOCATE FOR THE RIVER
In 1999 Friends partnered with the Southern Environmental Law Center and SCDHEC to oppose the sewer authority’s classification of a Lake Greenwood Algae bloom.
In 2002 we petitioned the SC State Public Service Commission in a successful attempt to deny certifications for construction of 3 "merchant power plants" on the lower Reedy River/Fork Shoals Area which would have removed enormous amounts of water from the Reedy.
FoRR was instrumental in convincing the City and DHEC to find a way to reduce the impact of car washes dumping polluted water into Reedy, a problem that has greatly improved.
Sent many public comment letters to DHEC and DNR to express concerns with development on sensitive land adjacent to the river or its tributaries.