The arrival of whitewater recreation Great Falls marked the end of 20 years of work and the beginning of a new era for the area. In some ways, though, the process is still a work in progress.
Even while he celebrated the opening of the whitewater opportunities in Great Falls last week, Mayor Josh Brantley was looking ahead to the work that the Town of Great Falls still has to accomplish to make sure things run smoothly from their end.
“Duke Energy has come through and played a big part in getting all of the whitewater activities lined up. For our part, the Town is working on annexation (of the Nitrolee Access Area, especially.) That’s taking a little longer than was expected, but it seems that everything connected with Town business seems too take longer than you expect,” Mayor Brantley said.
He said the Town is trying to get that work done as soon as possible. Part of that is out of the hands of local officials, as the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) owns some of the land the Town wants to annex. SCDNR has the annexation question on the agenda for its May meeting, Mayor Brantley reported, so it could be the middle of summer before Great Falls has the annexation completed.
As previously reported in The N&R, the county legislative delegation is working with SCDNR to get a letter agreeing to allow their portion of property to be annexed into the town.
The other property holders, Katawba Valley Land Trust and Duke Energy have already offered letters accepting annexation into the town. State Senator Mike Fanning said at the recent county delegation meeting the purpose of the annexation is so that the access areas can be served by town services, such as police, fire and rescue, uniformly without having to figure out if the jurisdiction for something should be town or county.
The town is also in the process of proposing regulations for outdoor outfitters, who will no doubt be attracted to the whitewater opportunities (and the business opportunities they present.)
Mayor Brantley said once the question of annexation is dealt with, the Town could begin to consider the ordinances specifically connected with outfitters.
“We know this whitewater recreation is going to bring a lot of people into the Town, so we are trying to get some measures in place so we are ready for the abundance of tourism opportunities and the tourists that are coming to the area, because on any given weekend, we could have thousands of people in Great Falls, and that’s not something we are accustomed to. So it’s going to be a big transition for us, really,” he said.
Brantley admitted the town’s infrastructure, in matters such as the amount of traffic the town could see, the appearance of the streets and the lack of parking, indicates the town is not quite ready for the expected influx of tourists — yet.
“As you can tell, the roads are in bad shape all the way from Pendergrass through town. Another issue we have is parking. We do not have a lot of parking anywhere. I have been in contact with the SC Department of Transportation and trying to work with some people that own property where I could see good potential to turn them into parking lots. I have been talking to those property owners about selling that property to the town or something, to provide more parking, because that is definitely a big issue that we have in Great Falls,” Brantley said.
The town already has a business license ordinance, so outfitters who conduct business in the Town of Great Falls will be required to have one, the mayor pointed out.
“Unfortunately, the area (were the outfitters hope to operate) is not annexed into the town limits, so we can’t impose our ordinances on property that’s not annexed into the town,” he said.
Another reason for annexation is so that the town’s first responder entities have jurisdiction should there be a need for them at the Nitrolee Access area, Brantley said, and also so the town’s police department can enforce the ordinances drawn up by the town. While the Town wants to welcome the entrepreneurs like independent outfitters, “what we don’t want is for the launch sites to get clogged up with outfitters; we want it to be a publicly-used site, and if it does get clogged up with outfitters, then that’s a problem. But another problem we face within that is, providing parking for the outfitters: if we are going to tell them they can’t park at the site, then we have to have somewhere for them to park. That’s something else that is in the works, as well,” Mayor Brantley said.
Editor Travis Jenkins contributed to this story.