Monday, June 25, 2012

New park could be historic treasure

This is what we have been working on the past year, so we hope to get back to work on the blog now that it has become a reality. 

Author(s):    BY BO PETERSEN Date: June 21, 2012 Section: Metro
SUMMERVILLE - The jungle-like stretch of the Ashley River, where it turns from a blackwater creek to a tidal stream, alone made Dorchester County's newest park property irresistible. The property might well have once held Gen. William Moultrie's "lost fort," among the most significant regional Revolutionary War sites not yet located.
There's one more thing: This park just might make money.
"Canoe and paddleboat rentals, shelter rentals, festivals, weddings, there's so many resources out there. The entire canvas is a blank slate that can actually pay for itself, in my opinion," said Tom O'Rourke, Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission executive director, who was consulted on the purchase.
The 83-acre tract Dorchester County is buying for its latest nature park is a prized piece of open land in the densely packed suburban area outside Summerville.
The county voted Monday to buy the property for $1.35 million. The site, formerly slated for residential development, had been in bank receivership.
It sits north of the river and east of Bacons Bridge Road, diagonally across the bridge from the newly opened woodland trail, Rosebrock Park.
The river tract is the third significant property bought in the past few years in the suburban lower county, where the county previously had no parks. In 2010, voters overwhelmingly passed a $5 million bond for parks and open space.
The other property is the Pine Trace tract off Miles Jamison Road.
The county also purchased 2 acres fronting the river tract along Bacons Bridge Road that it plans to sell for a compatible business to help pay for the park.
County Councilman Jay Byars, whose district includes the river property, said the park could be up and running relatively quickly. Some $3 million worth of infrastructure already is in place from the previous development effort, he said, including sewer lines, a fishing pond with gazebo, a dock on the river and a riverside trail with boardwalks.
With that value already on the ground and the potential for the park to support its own operation, the purchase "was a no-brainer," he said.
"You've got 3,000 feet of frontage on the Ashley River that the public can get out and enjoy. I don't think there was any argument on council. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
Then there's the "lost fort."
If archaeological digs confirm the place as the site of the Moultrie's camp, Byars suggested that the park might well be developed around that history, making it a regional attraction.
"I'm excited about the potential, the preservation of an important site and what it can do for the economy of the county," said Summerville historian Steven Steele.
The historic Bacon's Bridge crossed the river in the vicinity during the Revolutionary War and was a key strategic point, the inland wagon route to the fort and town just downstream at what is today the Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site.
Moultrie's camp would have protected the bridge.
Together, the nearby sites could make up a bigger historical trail attraction that could be traveled by water.
Patrick O'Kelley, who wrote a history of the American Revolution in the Carolinas, has visited the park site.
At one point, more than 1,000 American soldiers, some under "Swamp Fox" Francis Marion, were stationed near the bridge, a massive encampment that likely took up at least some of the park grounds, O'Kelley said.
"It's entirely possible" the park is that site, he said. "It makes sense."
Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744, @bopete on Twitter or Bo Petersen Reporting on Facebook.

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