Showin Off at Glendale Shoals

Monday, October 14, 2013

Monday, October 14, 2013


By Andrew Waters
HubCity Writers Project

On a Wednesday afternoon in early fall I am getting a tour of the Glendale Shoals Preserve with Steve Patton and Fred Parrish.

That’s a thing I’ve noticed about Glendale Shoals—people love to show it off.

Of course, I could hardly ask for better tour guides than Fred and Steve. Both are residents of the Glendale community on the east side of Spartanburg County and both are longtime volunteers for SPACE, a.k.a. the Spartanburg Area Conservancy, the local nonprofit land conservancy that owns and maintains an 11-acre preserve along Lawson’s Fork Creek, near the site of the old Glendale cotton mill that burned to the ground in 2004. And even though I’ve been to Glendale Shoals a few times since arriving in Spartanburg earlier this summer to become executive director of SPACE, I’m enjoying my tour.

Both Fred and Steve are naturalists, caretakers of the earth, and today I get to see the Preserve through their eyes as they point out different types of wildflowers growing in the thickly vegetated borders running along the wide, rushing creek that falls over a dam, then drops over a waterfall. We stroll over the old decommissioned bridge, now opened and maintained for pedestrians, from one side of Lawson’s Fork to the other.

And Steve asks Fred for the name of a flower, delicate and yellow and prevalent in this particular patch of grass, and Fred names it, as Steve knew he would, for Fred is one of the great storehouses of knowledge about Spartanburg’s natural world, and then John Lane comes along and interrupts my tour.

Not that I blame John. He is, after all, the director of Wofford College’s Goodall Environmental Studies Center, housed in the mill’s office building, the only structure of the once massive factory to survive the fire, now transformed into a state-of-the-art, LEED-certified field research station. And he does at that moment have a group of Wofford College students waiting for him in their kayaks on Lawson’s Fork for an afternoon float trip.

Steve excuses himself to help John retrieve a canoe from the storage shed at the Goodall Center so the trip can commence. My tour’s on hold, but that gives me a few moments to simply watch and listen.

On the shoals a young girl is stretched out on a rock while a photographer, taking advantage of the golden hue in the afternoon light, snaps her portrait. Downstream, where SPACE maintains a picnic shelter and some trails on the southern bank of the creek, a man and a woman, their small son, and a miniature pinscher are fishing along a shaded pool. A couple meanders past Goodall’s vineyard/garden and small amphitheater, past a few ruined mill towers and smokestacks. They are heading toward the mile-long loop trail, running along the creek and up the scenic, woody bluff over the river.

And here is where the story of Glendale Shoals starts to get confusing, or inspiring, depending on your point of view, for thanks to the efforts of its champions, Glendale Shoals has become a center for the Spartanburg environmental, conservation, and outdoor recreation communities. Further up the hill, in a refurbished church located in the heart of the Glendale community, Palmetto Conservation Foundation (PCF) runs the Glendale Outdoor Leadership School, or GOLS, where you can learn to climb on the indoor climbing wall, or take classes in kayaking or mountain biking, or host a truly unique birthday party for your child, and where soon an outdoor challenge course with zip lines will be located.

But don’t let this menagerie of organizations and acronyms confuse you. In fact, don’t even think about it, for all you really need to know about Glendale Shoals, and the whole Glendale community, is that this convergence of nature and community is special, that something about this place has spirit and wildness and serenity, which makes it worth a visit for a kayak trip or a rock climbing session or just to walk up and down the shores of Lawson’s Fork and look at the wildflowers and listen to the water cascading over the shoals. And that this place says something about Spartanburg: that it is old in both human and natural terms, but that it is using its history to move forward, to craft a new vision with focus on its natural resources.

I watch Steve stroll back over the bridge as John Lane and his group of students in kayaks disappear around a bend downstream. Their journey at Glendale Shoals has just begun, and in many ways, so has mine. “There’s something down here I want to show you,” Steve says, pointing to a wooded area down a steep bank and nestled against the shoals. I’m delighted to have someone who cares so much about this place show it to me; I want to see it all. And so I follow.



Andrew Waters

Andrew Waters, HubCity Writers Project

Andrew is the executive director of the Spartanburg Area Conservancy. He recently relocated to Spartanburg with his wife, Anne, and son, Eli. His short story “A Russian Storm” appears in the anthology Kwik Krimes, edited by Otto Penzler and published this fall.


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