The Daily Gamecock

Columbia's local parks offer outdoor recreation, culture, education opportunities

<p>FILE — The trail to the Congaree Creek Heritage Preserve is surrounded by tall trees, wildlife and the scent of pine.&nbsp;</p>
FILE — The trail to the Congaree Creek Heritage Preserve is surrounded by tall trees, wildlife and the scent of pine. 

Although living in Columbia presents many opportunities to experience city life, the area is also in close proximity to numerous parks and outdoor spaces. The result is what Dayna Cantelmi, the communication specialist for Experience Columbia SC calls "a city meets nature vibe."

Here are some local areas students can visit when they're looking for the skyline to fall away into natural landscapes, or to just see some green.

Greenview Park 

Experience Columbia SC describes the Greenview Park as a multi-sport complex and community center that provides an abundance of indoor and outdoor amenities. 

Visitors can utilize the park’s outdoor swimming pool, tennis courts, ball fields, walking trail and picnic shelter. Indoor amenities include a game room, ceramics room, fitness room and a gymnasium. 

Martin Luther King Jr. Park 

Situated within the Five Points business district, Martin Luther King Jr. Park is both a memorial for the Civil Rights leader and a community center where visitors can gather to enjoy grassy areas and amenities. 

The Columbia Parks and Recreation website notes that opportunities for athletics include baseball fields, basketball courts and an exercise room at the community center. It also mentions that visitors can soak up the history and significance of the park with a visit to the Stone of Hope, which is a dedication to Dr. King located within the park. 

Saluda Shoals Park 

According to the Saluda Shoals Park website, the “premier, natural, environmentally sensitive riverfront park” lies along the Saluda River and offers a combination of educational and recreational amenities. 

Saluda Shoals offers kayak, canoe and tube rentals, as well as 10 miles of trails for walking and biking and picnic shelters. 

In addition to these opportunities for outdoor recreation, the park maintains a focus on environmental consciousness and community outreach. Lead ranger Smith Harden said the park has a wide variety of programs for all ages that focus on arts, environmental education and getting people outdoors. 

Harden said the park’s programs and camps have encouraged youth to learn about the importance of the ecosystem and to appreciate the environment. 

"Just to see that interaction, to see them understand ... it's fun just to see them explore, and the light switch kinda turn on like 'you know, I'm not scared of the outdoors,'" Harden said.

Congaree National Park 

Cantelmi said that Columbia is lucky to have Congaree, as it is South Carolina's only national park. It is also one of the most biodiverse forests in the nation and is home to flourishing natural habitats that visitors can enjoy on hiking trails, in canoes, at campsites or from fishing spots. 

The park's floodplain forest has one of the highest tree canopies in the world and boasts the largest number of champion trees in North America, according to the National Park Foundation website. 

The park provides 10 different trails. Other park attractions occasionally include free guided walks like the Nature Discovery Walk and nighttime Owl Prowl. 

Park visitors may also be lucky enough to witness a naturally occurring attraction; a light show performed by a rare phenomenon of fireflies that synchronize their lights. Cantelmi fondly described her own experience with the fireflies at Congaree National Park. 

"It's just really cool how their blinks are in unison, and it's so dark out there and you kind of don't expect them to blink as rapidly as they do. It's almost like a strobe. It's just a really cool experience, and then again, to see something like that for free, It's really neat," Cantelmi said. 

Seven Oaks Park 

Located on the aptly named Leisure Lane, Seven Oaks Park serves its community by providing opportunities for people of all ages to enjoy its indoor and outdoor amenities.

According to Seven Oaks Park director Andrea Harris, these amenities include youth athletic programs, a senior center, a walking track, a fitness center and a frisbee golf course. 

 "It's basically the needs of the community in a recreational setting," Harris said. 

The park also includes wooded areas and paved trails where visitors can walk their dogs or stroll with friends. Harris explained that although their outdoor space is not a deep nature setting, it is a quiet place where many people come to relax and enjoy the outdoors. The park also holds seasonal events, such as its spring market and yard sales.

Harris said the park also offers college students unique work opportunities. Students interested in sports management or recreation hospitality are invited to participate in one of the park’s internships or volunteer programs or to pursue seasonal employment at the park. 

Finlay Park 

Park-goers may also be interested in Finlay Park, which the Columbia Parks and Recreation website calls “an oasis in the heart of downtown.” 

The park offers playgrounds, a lake, waterfalls, a fountain, green space and what the Experience Columbia website marks as one of the most photographed views in downtown Columbia. 

The park initially fell into disuse at the outbreak of the Civil War, but was reopened in 1990 and renamed Finlay Park in 1992 after former Columbia governor Kirkman Finlay.

The park has hosted events like The Summer Concert Series, Mayfest and Columbia Kids Day, and it provides the amenities and scenery for an outing nearby Main Street.