The Three Rivers Greenway project is beneficial to every aspect of Columbia's development. These types of eco-based developments are worth being invested in and promoted, as they provide economic, social and environmental benefits to Columbia.
The most recent developments are connecting the Saluda Riverwalk, a trail along the Saluda River, to the Riverfront Park trail that sits along the Congaree River and Columbia Canal. This means that two major scenic nature trails by our local rivers are being joined to create a longer, more expansive one.
The new developments will double the total distance of river trails in the area. $6 million in funding has been implemented to connect the Saluda River and the Riverfront via a bridge across the Broad River, according to Howard Duvall, city councilman and member of The River Alliance board.
"People know that these trails are interesting. They're a long so that they can do long bike rides or long hikes." Duvall said.
The River Alliance is a non-profit organization that works to connect the rivers within Columbia and prioritizes accessibility and preservation of the natural ecosystem. The board has been developing this Saluda River connection since 2003.
These connecting pedestrian trails create an opportunity to give both Columbia residents and tourists the ability to walk around the natural scenery and explore the city all on one trail.
“I think that will be what I call the lynchpin of the greenways from the City of Columbia — to get the link over the Broad River so people can come and stay in the Vista,” Duvall said.
Not only do trails benefit nature preservation within urban environments, they also benefit the local economy. According to the American Hiking Society, outdoor recreation creates 6.5 million American jobs and pumps $730 billion into the U.S. economy, which is such an economic impact that 1 in 20 employed Americans work with the outdoor recreation industry in one way or another.
The development of the Three Rivers Greenway will stimulate the economy and bring financial benefits to local Columbia businesses while also creating employment opportunities. One major goal of this project is to draw in visitors and commerce to Columbia businesses.
Even industries that don’t seem to be connected to the pathways will benefit from its further development.
“One of the impacts will be on the hotels and we've got new hotels opening up almost every month,” Duvall said. One of the goals of this development is to bring more visitors and activity to the Columbia area. The hotels and other local businesses will hopefully be seeing a rise in new customers with the tourism draw of the Greenway.
The Three Rivers Greenway currently has about 12.5 miles of pathway, and its ability to connect riverwalks brings a specific intrigue for hikers, cyclists and even casual nature lovers. It serves as one more reason to plan a trip to Columbia and enhances the scenic natural landscape, preserving its beauty while making it accessible for the population to enjoy.
The environmental advantages of the Three Rivers Greenway are important as well. The Greenway can offer benefits in combatting climate change effects in Columbia.
Kirsten Dow, Carolina Trustees professor in the department of geography and the lead investigator of the Carolinas Integrated Sciences and Assessments, said the greenway is pivotal to mitigating floods in Columbia.
“The trees in greenways are very important for regulating floodwaters and for slowing speed of stormwater runoff across the landscape. So they can be very good in helping us mitigate potentially heavier rainfall. And having a good tree canopy is also important for offsetting urban heat island effects,” Dow said.
Urban heat islands raise the temperatures in cities and can make heat waves worse during the warm seasons.
“Urban heat islands are caused because so many of the surfaces we build with — asphalt and concrete and stone — are very good at absorbing heat and re-radiating that heat out," Dow said. "So they artificially warm parts of the environment and shading those areas with a strong, a good tree canopy and having trees providing evapotranspiration and cooling in that way makes a hot city much more livable."
Developments like the greenway are an important part of connecting our community to the natural landscape. They foster that connection by giving all Columbia residents a chance to appreciate the river and the natural beauty of the urban environment; it affects everyone.
“Everybody who is in — who has a vested interest in this — students to business to residents. I mean, there are so many people who can get involved,” Becca Smith, executive director of Sustainable Midlands, said.
Sustainable Midlands is a nonprofit organization based in promoting sustainable living and development within the Midlands region.
Advocating for the progress and development of the greenway will help to move the process along. If the city council knows there is a strong interest in the community for finalizing the greenway, it will motivate them to allocate more funds to the process. The student body can make waves and individual action can make a big difference.
Thinking globally while acting locally is a key to solving our environmental problems within our cities, according to Smith. We can show that we are invested in our local environment.