County breaks ground on Cateechee Beach Park

Jason Evans/Courier

Cateechee Beach Park will be located off of Norris Highway. The park is one of two parks that will comprise the Twelve Mile Recreational Park.

By Jason Evans
Staff Reporter

CATEECHEE — A once-polluted area of Pickens County is being given new life as a county park.

County officials broke ground on Cateechee Beach Park, located off Norris Highway, during a special ceremony at the park Wednesday morning.

County Council Chair Jennifer Willis said the day was bittersweet, due to an ongoing fire in another part of Pickens County.

“We’re here today to celebrate the groundbreaking of the Cateechee Park,” Willis said. “However, in the northern part of the county today, our emergency crews, aided by resources from other agencies and counties, as well as state agencies, are battling wildfires in another beautiful part of our home.”

She asked the audience to remember those in harm’s way fighting the fire.

“In this season of thanksgiving, it is appropriate to give thanks for our natural resources and those who protect them,” Willis said. “Today we are here to celebrate the creation of waterway access on the Twelve Mile River.”

The park will restore citizen access to this portion of the river “after years of cleanup,” Willis said.

“Today’s project is a wonderful example of taking something bad and making something good come of it. We are blessed to be able to do that.”

Due to pollution from chemical dispersal in the 1960s and prior, area waterways such as the Twelve Mile River have been affected negatively, she continued.

“Today, thanks to cleanup efforts, funded by Schlumberger, the riverbed behind us has had dams removed, it has been dredged and the sediment that was left has been blanketed,” Willis said.

The dams were removed in 2011, reestablishing the natural flow of the river for the first time in more than 100 years.

“The riverbed is now considered safe,” Willis said.

Extensive independent testing has been done by county council to confirm that assessment, “to assure us that it is safe for our citizens and it is safe for the natural resources that are here,” she said.

The Lake Hartwell Natural Resource Trustee Council, which oversees a settlement fund established to restore habitat in Lake Hartwell and the Twelve Mile River corridor, as well as improve recreational activities, award Pickens County a grant to fund creation of the park.

When complete, the park will have an area for whitewater kayaking, a fishing pier and green space.

Wes Hulsey, President and CEO of the firm of Hulsey, McCormick & Wallace, spoke of the area’s history. His firm has worked with the county in planning and developing solid waste facilities, sewer infrastructure, roadways and parks — as well as navigating environmental regulatory issues.

He hopes the park will both honor the employees of the former Cateechee Mill and the residents of the mill village, located nearby, as well as provide recreational boating, fishing, picnicking opportunities for all residents and visitors.

“Downstream from this location is the Twelve Mile River Gorge,” Hulsey said. “The old Cateechee Mill was operated by Woodside behind these trees.”

The mill has been out of service for decades, Hulsey said.

“There is still a village behind us on the hill, Cateechee Village, where a number of Pickens County residents still reside, many of them descendants of old mill workers,” he said.

This area, as well as the city of Pickens and the Twelve Mile arm of Lake Hartwell, was part of the Sangamo-Weston Superfund site, Hulsey said.

“Sangalo-Weston operated a mill that generated capacitors in the city of Pickens for a number of decades,” he said. “As part of that operation, polychlorinated biphenyls were released into the river.”

After decades of investigation, risk assessments, studies and removal of the dams to allow sediments to flow downstream to Lake Hartwell to cover up the PCBs that were released, the Environmental Protection has deemed the Twelve Mile River as well as the Twelve Mile arm of Lake Hartwell as safe for human recreation, including swimming, boating and fishing, Hulsey said.

“I’d like to invite everyone, when this park is completed, to come out and enjoy this park,” Hulsey said. “Bring a picnic. Bring your kayak, bring your fishing poles and also your hiking shoes.”

He thanked the council for their efforts in seeing the area cleaned up and restored.

“Let this park be a tribute to this council and their service to the county,” Hulsey said.

With that, Hulsey and county council members took up shovels and broke ground on the park.

The park is the second portion of the Twelve Mile Recreational Park, along with Madden Bridge Park in Central. County officials recently broke ground on that park as well.

Madden Bridge Park will also contain opportunities for fishing, hiking and picnicking, as well as a takeout point and flatwater paddling access to the Twelve Mile arm of Lake Hartwell.

It is anticipated that the establishment of the parks will create nearly 100 jobs, draw thousands of visitors annually and positively impact the economies of Norris, Six Mile and Central.