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New nature-focused feature opening at Unity Park in Greenville

Krys Merryman //May 16, 2023//

New nature-focused feature opening at Unity Park in Greenville

Krys Merryman //May 16, 2023//

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The Duke Energy Outdoor Classroom under construction at the Reedy River Wetlands Preserve at Unity Park. (Photo/Hughes Agency)

A new feature at Unity Park focused on the restoration of wetlands that reveal the Reedy River’s natural course is about to be officially open to residents.

Greenville officials on Wednesday, May 17, will unveil the Reedy River Wetlands Preserve — an urban wetlands featuring an outdoor classroom, overlooks and a series of low-impact, ADA-accessible boardwalks offering vantage points to learn about the native species and wildlife living in this critical ecosystem.

The wetlands will serve as a refuge for wildlife and nourish the growth of native plants.

River restoration, the removal of invasive species, the addition of new trees and the construction of boardwalks are courtesy of BMW Manufacturing. Duke Energy Corporation was the donor for an outdoor classroom that is currently being installed. Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices C. Dan Joyner, Realtors and other private donors are providing overlooks for quiet reflection, according to a Hughes Agency news release.

“These wetlands create a healthier river system, improve habitat, mitigate flood risk and a beautiful scenic and educational amenity for our community,” said Greenville Mayor Knox White.

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BMW Manufacturing donated $1.25 million to restore and preserve the wetlands, Duke Energy contributed $500,000 for the outdoor classroom, and the family of C. Dan Joyner donated $100,000 to sponsor one of the three overlooks. A fourth donor who contributed $200,000 will be announced in early 2024. The project was funded entirely by the $2.05 million in private money raised by Hughes Agency in Greenville, the release said.

Designed by MKSK Studios and executed by Harper General Contractors, the Reedy River Wetlands Preserve is comprised of four acres and may one day be expanded to twice that size, according to the release.

“Our father, C. Dan Joyner, was not only a successful businessman, but an enthusiastic philanthropist and great contributor to the Greenville community,” said Danny Joyner of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices C. Dan Joyner, Realtors. “This beautiful overlook carries on his legacy and serves as a reminder of the positive impact he had on our family and the community he loved.”

The restoration of the wetlands, which reveals the original path of the Reedy River, included the removal of invasive plant species as well as ash trees affected by the emerald ash borer, a wood-boring beetle that has killed millions of ash trees in North America. In their place, workers carefully placed at least 100 native trees and more than 200 native shrubs — aligning with one of Unity Park’s nine guiding principles of driving toward a sustainable future, the release said.

“At BMW, we firmly believe that it is our responsibility as a corporate citizen to give back and support the communities where our associates live and work,” said Robert Engelhorn, president and CEO of BMW Manufacturing. “What better way to do this than preserving and protecting a natural environment like the Reedy River Wetlands Preserve in Unity Park, which aligns perfectly with BMW’s sustainability strategy. The Reedy River Wetlands will provide a quiet space where the community and visitors can walk, rest, and learn more about this unique ecosystem.”

Wetlands are critical to the ecosystem

Manufactured by The Heirloom Cos. of Greenville, the Duke Energy Outdoor Classroom is made up of 72 pieces of wood and twisted steel overlooking one of the wetland’s vernal pools, the release said.

“Duke Energy is a mission-driven company, and our mission today is nothing short of reaching the industry’s most ambitious goals in sustainability,” said Mike Callahan, Duke Energy’s South Carolina president. “It is important for companies like ours to work alongside our communities to invest in the health and well-being of our employees and the neighborhoods we serve. That’s why Duke Energy is excited to have provided the funding for the outdoor classroom at Unity Park. This is a unique facility that will educate the public of the important environmental contribution of wetlands and the need to preserve them.”

Visitors to the wetlands will see multiple species of plants and trees including green arrow arum, silky dogwood, sweet gum, American sycamore and magnolia grandiflora. Additionally, the wetlands are home to various wildlife such as great blue herons, snapping turtles, North American raccoons, spotted salamanders, mallard ducks and monarch butterflies, according to the release.

The Wetlands occupy the northwest portion of Unity Park and serve as a critical interpretive and infrastructural feature of the park. Located along the original course of the Reedy River before its channelization, the Wetlands offer a glimpse at this forgotten history of the Reedy while showcasing best-in-class green infrastructural systems and habitat restoration. Low-impact boardwalks and a central Duke Energy Outdoor Classroom allow visitors first-hand experience of this living landscape and the wildlife and plants that call it home.

“This is a really big project for the City of Greenville,” said Duke Energy spokesperson Ryan Mosier. “This was a great fit to provide the funding as one of the private/public partnerships for Unity Park, and we are looking forward to its launch.”

The wetlands will be an opportunity to educate those who utilize Unity Park on the importance of its preservation and critical to the ecosystem, especially within an urban environment, said Mosier.

“Many people will use this over the years to learn more about mother nature and the original route of the Reedy River and bringing back a critical part of what it does for the area,” he added.