NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. (WJBF) — A lock stands between residents and the Savannah River Bluffs Heritage trail. It was closed recently, and many people in North Augusta wonder what’s going on.
“We all love the park. We all agree. The park is a wonderful thing,” Diane Koehne told NewsChannel 6’s Aiken Bureau Chief Shawn Cabbagestalk. “I think it’s a real shame and a real loss to the North Augusta community,” Pat Kaerko added.
Koehne and Kaerko are two of several people voicing concerns over the Savannah River Bluffs Heritage trail closure. The trail is off a private driveway, but the driveway is not so private after all.
“We sometimes get 50 cars a day on this road and this parking area is there’s an easement here that’s illegal,” Koehne shared. COVID made the parking situation even worse for Koehne and her family. “They would come out here and this parking lot would be totally full and it would overflow down this road and all the way up this road,” she recalled. “As you can see, the road is so narrow that it was hard for the people that live here to even get to their house,” she added. The parking problems are also a safety concern. “They came speeding down our roads. This is like a 20 mile an hour road and they were at 50 miles an hour. Because it’s a one-lane road, there’s so many curves and blind spots that you couldn’t see somebody on the other side. We would actually play a fake-off to see who was gonna move over to allow the other to move on. And we don’t have shoulders on this road either. So it’s very, very dangerous,” she said.
The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources closed the area last week. While the space offered peace of mind, some say other activities were happening there.
“It’s just not good. I mean, we have speeders, we have drug deals going down. We have all kinds of stuff,” Koehne said.
After years of growth, DNR went back to the drawing board to figure out how to add more parking spaces for visitors, but the agency ran into a roadblock. “Because we were looking at maybe doing a larger parking lot, something of that nature. And that’s when we found out that when they first had the property, they did not establish a road access agreement,” SC DNR’s Willie Simmons said.
“This trail is a beautiful resource for people in the area to be able to get out and exercise and get some fresh air.,” Kaerko recalled.
While those who use the area often are waiting for a fix, Koehne has a possible solution. “The parking area needs to be moved. And honestly, if, if that parking area is on DNR property, then it should be over there in the Savannah Barney area.”
Shawn asked DNR if that option would be feasible, “We actually don’t own that property right there that goes through property that the HOA owns. The easement that you see is a power line. So unless we can purchase property or someone grants us an easement. Those are the only two ways to get into the property,” Simmons added
“I think we can come to an amicable resolution. DNR wants to do something. The people on this road wanna do something. We have to maintain this road ourselves over there. The city maintains the road, which makes sense. And it’s a two-lane road. So if everybody is happy, open up that parking spot over there, and open the back park back up,” Koehne added. “The Department of Natural Resources needs to work with the local community here to not only provide additional parking area but also to help compensate the people that live right here for the repairs on the road,” Kaerko shared.
Meanwhile, DNR says the trail will be closed indefinitely until those matters are taken care of.