Despite its unhealthy amounts of pollution over the years, the Reedy River has become one of downtown Greenville’s most treasured spots for recreation.
Every year, thousands congregate around the river’s scenic shoal and waterfall at Falls Park. And thousands more enjoy sports and various recreational activities along the river at Cleveland Park and Lake Conestee Nature Park.
“The Reedy River is the central focus of downtown Greenville,” said Heather Nix, director of the clean water program for environmental advocacy group Upstate Forever. “It’s one of the many reasons why Greenville has become such a success story.”
But many residents believe the river needs more access points outside the city.
“The river is more than a scenic downtown attraction,” said Michael Jones, a Simpsonville resident. “It’s my getaway place for fishing, kayaking, and swimming.”
The Reedy begins in Travelers Rest and meanders through the City of Greenville to Lake Greenwood. The upper portion of the river’s 75-mile path includes the urban areas of the City of Greenville, Mauldin, Simpsonville, and Fountain Inn.
Jones, like many other residents, relies on Cedar Falls Park in Fountain Inn to access the Reedy. The 90-acre park, which was created in 2011 by Greenville County, is the only public site outside the city that offers adequate access to the river.
“My family loves Cedar Falls, but it’d be nice if there were other access points that don’t require me to drive to downtown,” said Jones.
A family enjoys Cedar Falls Park, which has become a popular access point for recreation on the Reedy River.
Unfortunately, the river must be clean enough for local governments to promote recreation and create public access points, according to Nix.
Since the 1900s, the river has experienced severe pollution from nearby textile mills, sewage discharges, and runoff from increased urbanization.
Now much of the river is listed by the state as “impaired,” a designation that signals possible health risks and causes local governments to prohibit swimming, kayaking, and other recreational activities, according to Nix.
The state, however, only measures whether or not a waterway is clean enough for swimming, not boating, according to Nix. “The river is often clean enough to boat or paddle in even if it’s not swimmable,” she said.
Greenville County currently doesn’t permit swimming in any river or lake on park property and has mounted signs at Cedar Falls Park to warn visitors about the “high level of pollution that makes swimming, wading, and kayaking unhealthy and dangerous,” according to spokesman Bob Mihalic.
Cedar Falls is one of 10 Upstate swimming holes on DHEC’s advisory list, which also includes Falls Park in downtown Greenville, Pelham Falls along the Enoree River south of Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport, and Long Shoals park along the Little Eastatoe Creek in Pickens County.
The Reedy, however, is federally designated as a “navigable waterway.” The designation basically removes the river from county jurisdiction, making the warning signs nothing more than mere suggestions, according to Nix.
In fact, it’s completely legal to kayak, fish, or swim the river via public access points.
In addition to Cedar Falls Park, Cleveland Park is the only other known public site in Greenville County that offers adequate access points for recreation on the Reedy, according to Katie Hottel, GIS coordinator for Upstate Forever.
Finding the Source
Unfortunately, the lack of public access points could persist in the coming years.
“The Reedy has come a long way and its water quality has significantly improved over the years,” said Nix. “But it’s an urban river, which means it’s going to have issues.”
Despite years of effort and cleanup, Greenville’s portion of the Reedy continues to be hampered by excessive amounts of E. coli bacteria, which come from the digestive systems of animals and flow downstream from various sources, including cattle farms, leaky sewer pipes, and pet waste.
“E. coli bacteria impair waterways and can contaminate sources of drinking water, limit recreation opportunities, damage the habitat of fish and other aquatic animals and plants, and make humans and pets ill if ingested,” said Maddi Phillips, community relations coordinator for the Greenville County Soil and Water Conservation District.
According to Phillips, dog waste remains one of the leading contributors to the Reedy River’s excessive E. coli bacteria levels.