WASHINGTON, D.C. (Feb. 28, 2023)—The Town of Kingstree and Georgetown and Williamsburg counties today praised Senator Lindsey Graham for his leadership in securing $4.6 million in federal funding for the Black River Initiative through the Community Development Program at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The funding was included as part of the FY23 Omnibus Appropriations Bill which was also supported by Congressman James Clyburn.
The funding will help create and expand three local parks which are all included in South Carolina’s Black River Initiative, a 70-mile-long riverine park network and paddling route through Williamsburg and Georgetown counties. This network of parks, which includes South Carolina’s first new state park in 20 years in this rural and historically underserved region of the state, will connect residents to the State Scenic Black River, provide critical flood mitigation for riverside communities, and boost local tourism.
The Black River Initiative is the result of a multi-year collaborative effort led by the Open Space Institute (OSI) in partnership with other non-profit, local, and state government partners which incorporates extensive public outreach and input.
“The Town of Kingstree appreciates both Senator Lindsey Graham’s leadership and the work of the Open Space Institute’s partnership in facilitating concepts that will improve public access to our Scenic Black River,” said Richard L. Treme, Kingstree Town Manager. “By helping us find ways to enhance the public’s appreciation of the history, both natural and cultural, of our waterway, we can ensure that future generations will benefit from the work we are doing today. The economic impact of providing access to our wild spaces and enriching our understanding of what has gone before us will enhance the quality of life for Kingstree and surrounding areas, and for that we are grateful.”
Williamsburg County Supervisor Kelvin Washington added, “Williamsburg County thanks Senator Graham for this critical investment for our community. The Black River is both scenic and historic and means a lot to residents. We applaud Senator Graham’s efforts and look forward to improving river access for local residents and the many visitors it will attract.”
Beth Goodale, Georgetown County’s Director of Recreation & Community Services explained, “We were excited to obtain, improve and reopen Rocky Point through the collective work of the Rocky Point partners. We are thrilled to see our local efforts become part of the larger regional Black River Initiative. The regional initiative has brought new attention to what is arguably one of the most beautiful stretches of river in South Carolina and the small towns located within the region.”
“The Winyah Rivers Alliance would like to express our gratitude to all of the dedicated partners in the continued efforts to conserve, protect, and bring better access to this ecological and cultural treasure of South Carolina,” said Debra Buffkin, Alliance’s Executive Director. “We are particularly grateful to Senator Lindsey Graham for funding Georgetown County where we are joint owners of Rocky Point Community Forest. Rocky Point will serve as the anchor for the Black River Water Trail and Park Network.
“We can hardly wait to see the first kayaker paddling up to a camping platform along the banks of the beautiful Black,” said Winyah Rivers Alliances Black-Sampit Riverkeeper, Erin Donmoyer.
“The Black River Initiative will be an economic generator for the region,” said Senator Graham. “In addition to attracting tourists, creating additional public access, and jumpstarting local businesses along the river, this project will play an important role in flood mitigation efforts. I was proud to be part of this team effort.”
Creating and Expanding Local Parks
The Master Plan for the Black River Initiative was released in 2022 and followed a year-long community outreach and planning process. The plan focused on a dozen strategically located park sites, all along the river between Kingstree and Georgetown, many of which have been secured by OSI and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in the past 24 months. (An overview of the Master Plan and accompanying video can be found in the “Black River Experience” StoryMap and Video.)
Of these dozen sites, three local parks will benefit from the HUD funding:
- Town of Kingstree Park (Town of Kingstree) – The first stop along the Black River park network is a new waterfront park and kayak launch. The park will provide a walkable link to Kingstree’s downtown businesses and restaurants. Structures on the property will be renovated to support a weekend farmers market, a location for boater and water safety trainings, and eventually a wildlife education center. This property was secured through a significant public-private partnership including Town of Kingstree, Duke Energy Water Resource Fund, South Carolina Conservation Bank, OSI, Pee Dee Land Trust, and Butler Conservation Fund.
- Ben Ervin Park and Boat Landing (Williamsburg County) – This treasured county park and boat landing, a long-time gathering place for the Bloomingvale community, has fallen into disrepair but will be enhanced by improved water access and park amenities to ensure that residents have inviting ways to enjoy the river.
- Rocky Point Community Forest (Georgetown County) – New funding will support several Phase One projects including additional paddle access and primitive waterside camping along Choppee Creek, which is the final property – or last stop – along the Black River Initiative. Once a Segregation-era park designated for the local African American community, this community gathering place was reopened by Georgetown County, Winyah Rivers Alliance, OSI, TNC, and additional partners in 2018. The park features a kayak launch, motorboat landing, picnic area, and recreational trails. Winyah Rivers Alliance and Georgetown County own discrete areas of the park and operate it jointly.
The federal HUD funds are anticipated by year-end at which time Kingstree and Georgetown and Williamsburg Counties will begin work on their park projects.
Long-Term Vision for the Black River Initiative
For the dozen park properties along the 70 miles of river, the Black River Initiative Master Plan sets a vision for the creation of amenities, including camping options, picnic shelters for group events, hiking trails and boardwalks, restrooms, and a visitor center. The plan also includes improved access to the river for fishing and swimming, and a water trail for paddlers to explore the beauty of the river from one point to another. Unique experiences such as paddle-up platform campsites and flood-resilient treehouse accommodations are also included.
Throughout the master planning process, local residents, businesses, and area officials provided input to guide decision-making about park amenities and maximizing the recreational, economic, and environmental benefits the park network can provide.
Based on the Master Plan’s proposed amenities, the total cost to build the multi-park initiative’s infrastructure is estimated at approximately $45 million.
“The Black River Initiative is about the intersection of outdoor recreation and economic prosperity. Senator Graham’s leadership in securing this initial funding for these three local parks is an incredible boost to the infrastructure phase of this collaborative effort,” states Dr. Maria Whitehead, OSI’s Southeast Director. “We have a long way to go, but with the continued support of local, state, federal, and private partners, we are hopeful that sooner rather than later, the people of South Carolina will be able to enjoy – and prosper from – this stunningly beautiful river.”
The Open Space Institute protects scenic, natural, and historic landscapes to provide public enjoyment, conserve habitat and working lands, and sustain communities. Founded in 1974, OSI has been a partner in the protection of more than 2.3 million acres in North America, including more than 35,000 acres in South Carolina. Visit OSI online at https://www.openspaceinstitute.org/states/south-carolina
Winyah Rivers Alliance is an Alliance of Riverkeepers protecting rivers flowing through North and South Carolina for fishing, swimming and drinking. Their jurisdiction includes the watersheds of the Lower Pee Dee Basin, representing a drainage area of 11,700 square miles and including the Waccamaw, Lumber-Little PeeDee, Lower PeeDee (including the Sampit), Lynches, and Black Rivers. The Alliance educates to encourage stewardship of our river resources, advocates to guard against threats to clean water and conserves land and water for the benefit of our families and our future. Visit WRA online at https://winyahrivers.org
The Black River Initiative partners and supporters include but are not limited to: The Town of Kingstree, The Town of Andrews, Williamsburg County, Georgetown County, SC Parks Recreation and Tourism, Winyah Rivers Alliance, 10 non-profits, private foundations, the Black Scenic River Advisory Program, five local and state Native American Tribes, Clemson University School of Landscape Architecture, National Park Service RTCAP, SC American Society for Landscape Architects, Waccamaw Council of Governments, USC Lancaster, Coastal Carolina University, and the SC Conservation Bank.