Friday, March 16, 2018

The Greenville Public Library is Not Free

The Greenville County Library System was founded in 1921 with 500 volumes in a vacant storage room on East Coffee Street. Today, there are 11 library branches, a bookmobile, and a website which provide free access to resources and experiences. Except it’s not free if you choose to visit the Hughes branch, which also happens to be the Main library.

Hughes was constructed in 2002, and at the same time the adjacent parking deck was built. It serves the library as well as the Children's Museum of the Upstate, Greenville County Museum of Art, and the Greenville Little Theater. Although owned by Greenville County, the parking deck/garage is managed by Lanier Parking Solutions, and the rates are as follows: 0-15 minutes free, 16-30 minutes for $0.50, $0.50 for each additional 30 minutes and a maximum of $4.00 per day. Parking is free on weekends, after 5:00pm on weekdays, and for vehicles with handicapped tags.

The then-spokesman for Greenville County (when Greenville Online ran a Q&A about the parking situation in 2014) Bob Mihalic stated "If the parking was free at Heritage Green then many of the people working nearby would take up the free parking spots at the Green early in the day."  "It's an attempt to create a deterrent, to discourage people who work downtown from taking spaces and they're not darkening the door of any of our institutions on Heritage Green," said Beverly James, executive director of the Greenville County Library System.

That makes absolutely no sense.

The ‘people working downtown’ work business hours, meaning they leave after 5pm – and therefore park for free. It’s the ‘people visiting downtown’ who are footing the bill, people like the parents bringing their children to the ‘free’ programs at the library, visiting the ‘free’ Museum of Art, or those paying the $19 and up (price calculated for one adult and one child) admission at The Children’s Museum of the Upstate.

But “it's free for the first 15 minutes… which means library users can drop off a book or other borrowed item in the pull-through boxes or even park and run in for a reserved item without having to pay the parking fee,” James said.

Well then.

As a mother of three children I declare it just about impossible to park, unpack the kids, ‘run in’ for our reserved items, check out, return to my car, buckle everyone in, and make it out in under 15 minutes.

It doesn’t help that the clock on the ticket machine is consistently slow, and the clock at the pay booth is fast… Meaning when I pull in the ticket is stamped three minutes before the time on my cell but when I pull out it is 2 minutes after – meaning I’m already out 5 minutes, despite having just pulled into the lot.

And there is only the one way out. So chances are you’ll hit a line upon exiting, and as the booth accepts cash, check, credit cards and probably bitcoin, each patron takes on average 1 or 2 minutes to pay and exit. On a recent visit (March 15th at approximately 1pm) I spent a record 6.5 minutes out of my vehicle (yes, I timed it), a sprint from the car into the library and back out…

But I was charged $1. For the pleasure of sitting in my car 20 minutes. And for the 5 minutes to make up the time difference in the two clocks. Yes, and those 6.5 minutes it took to check out the books I had on hold.

What’s interesting is that there were coin-operated parking meters in the lot behind what is now the Children’s Museum back when it was the main library, so there is a history of paid parking in the area.

Must have been nice, only paying for the time you were parked, and not the time you were waiting in line to pay for parking.

One dollar, it may not seem like much. But I’m at the library two or three times per week. That’s over $100 a year, and while I would be happy to put that money towards new books, or headphones for the computers, or supplies for children’s programming – the money collected at the Heritage Green deck is used for the upkeep and maintenance of the deck itself, according to Mr. Mihalic.

So there was that time that I was headed back to my car on a rainy day, and I slipped in the mud puddle at the pedestrian entrance to the deck and landed on my tailbone. You know, the place the water has been pooling for the last three years, that is wet even when the Upstate is in drought. The one my children walk through every. single. time. we go to the library. Yes, I’ve reported it, especially after paying fines to replace books that were destroyed when they fell in the puddle on my errant slip.

There’s also the poison-ivy infested strip of ‘landscaping’ behind the garage, the lower floor corner used as a gathering place for ‘people working downtown’ on their lunch break, the constant litter… Yes, the upkeep and maintenance of the deck is definitely getting the attention it deserves.

Our solution is to park a little further away and get some exercise lugging our borrowed books to and fro. However this seems to be the solution for all the employees at the various Heritage Green institutions who also have to pay (a monthly fee) to use the parking deck, as the streets behind the garage are routinely full; we often end up parking more than ¼ mile away.

I wonder what the residents of the Heritage Historic District think about the glut of cars lining the already-narrow Barrett Street and Central Avenue.

And then there is the matter of safety. Pedestrians coming from the residential district either have to circle all the way around to Atwood, or they have to take the pedestrian 'walkway' from the corner of Marshall and Barrett. These stripes on the road wind through the parking lot access roads on which drivers regularly speed in their hurry to beat the 15 minute parking limit. Get in a little extra exercise, dodging the cars coming around the blind corner of the garage, in a race to get to the sidewalk…

I love the library. I think it is a great asset for the City of Greenville. But when I’ve raised the issue of parking with the library, I’ve been directed to call Lanier Parking Solutions. It is not correct that library patrons are held ransom to a parking situation with all the problems listed in this article. Worse yet, after contacting the library and Lanier Parking, there is no recourse available.

I would be glad to hear any comments on your experiences with the parking at the Heritage Green parking deck.

Oh, have any Parking Questions?
Contact Lanier Parking Solutions at 864-240-8146.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Jump Off Rock

When on excursions into the Blue Ridge Mountains we often make multiple stops: one for an extended hike, one for a picnic lunch, maybe once for restrooms, sometimes at a local farm or creamery for a take-home souvenir, and usually at one or two scenic viewpoints just to break up the car ride. Laurel Park’s Jump Off Rock is such a destination, the small park at the top of Echo Mountain providing panoramic views of the Blue Ridge and Pisgah mountains.

Jump Off Rock is easy enough to find, the parking lot on Laurel Park being the literal and figurative end of the road; looking northwest the side of the mountain drops away to rolling valleys in front of a backdrop of the imposing peaks of the Blue Ridge. Visitors walk the short path to the edge of the cliff where a sturdy viewing platform allows an unimpeded view of Pinnacle Mountain, the French Broad River and Mount Pisgah. With an elevation over 3,000ft and a 200° view, the view stretches to South Carolina, Georgia and even Tennessee on a clear day.

The beautiful wrought iron fence mimics the ridges and peaks of the mountain vista

The legend that gave the rock cliff its name involves a Cherokee maiden that would return each evening to the peak awaiting her lover’s return. Upon learning of his death the young woman threw herself off the cliff in despair, but some say that on moonlit nights her ghost can still be seen today, waiting for the Chief to come back to her.

Three trails criss-cross the park for the option of a short hike. Named for J.J. Kessler, a member of the Laurel Park Civic Association instrumental in beautifying the park, the trails offer views of the rock, several other outcroppings, as well as seasonal wildflowers and rhododendron. The blue trail cuts off to the west and loops back through a narrow crack in the rock, while the red trail drops off to the northeast, looping back along the park boundary. A third trail, the yellow trail is a spur from the red trail, and traverses the steep slope below Jump Off Rock. While portions of one trail used to be part of an old carriage road, most of the way is a narrow footpath. An old water structure (or other man-made feature) is located on the red trail, attesting to human presence throughout recent history. And although traffic from a road below filters up to the yellow trail, the area is remarkably secluded for such a small park; we even saw a woodchuck on our recent visit, and the first spring wildflowers were coming up. A sign at the trailhead lists mileages and provides a rough map of all three trail options.

A visit to Laurel Park and Jump Off Rock could easily be combined with a trip to Hendersonville, or on a day spent in Flat Rock at the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site. It could make a nice detour to catch a sunset after a day of apple picking in the region, or make a great picnic spot on the way to hiking on the Pisgah. Whether on a day trip to Asheville or headed even further north to the Smoky Mountains, keep Laurel Park in mind; the Jump Off view of the Blue Ridge Mountains never ceases to amaze and inspire.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Ashmore Heritage Preserve

The Upstate’s Heritage Preserves are not only some of the most interesting and scenic of the region’s natural areas, they are also a well-kept secret. These sanctuaries are just a little further off the beaten path than the popular State Parks, but attract only a small percentage of the traffic, making for enjoyable hikes close to home without the crowds.

Panoramic shot of Lake Wattacoo from the emergency spillway

Among the Heritage Preserves closest to Greenville (just 35 minutes!) is the Ashmore Heritage Preserve, located just south of Caesars Head State Park and helping to form the Mountain Bridge Wilderness. The 1,125 acre Preserve includes a portion of the Mountain Bridge Passage Trail, as well as the 1.5 mile Wattacoo Pond Loop, the perfect trail to hit this spring.

Wattacoo Pond Loop shown here in pink, parking designated by a "P" near the blue star

Ashmore is located on Persimmon Ridge Road just 0.8 miles north of Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway 11. Although portions of Persimmon Ridge Road are gravel, the Preserve is only a short distance from the paved section, and is generally accessible to most sedans. There is room for a handful of cars on the right (east) side of the road, and the two trailheads to the Wattacoo Pond Loop are the red gates to the north and to the south of the parking area. These are also the trailheads used to access the Mountain Bridge Passage Trail, which will eventually connect  Hwy 11 to the Foothills Trail through Jones Gap and Caesars Head State Parks. The trailhead will be at what was formerly Camp Spearhead, the property to the south.

One of the better-visible purple/pink blazes - really blends in

The trails are blazed (including a purple/pink for the Wattacoo Pond Loop), however in many places the paint has faded; with multiple trails/old roads crisscrossing this area, it is a good idea to take a look at a map before setting off. In general the trail heads downhill to the lake and then back up to the road, but the northern half of the loop has a second dip down to Wattacoo Creek. For a more detailed hike description, see this blog post.

The waterfall is visible during the winter from across the lake - look in the upper half of this photo

The portion of the trail that winds around the Lake offers beautiful views of rock outcrops and a water slide on Green Mountain. There is a beaver pond below the dam, and evidence of the beavers at work is plentiful. On the far side of the lake is a natural bog, habitat for rare plants such as orchids, pitcher plants and sundew. Other plants that can be found at Ashmore include a wide variety of ferns, as well as Indian Paint Brush, Grass-Of-Parnassus and Piedmont Ragwort.

The pitcher plant bog next to Lake Wattacoo adjacent to Loop Trail

In addition to the flora, three animals on the state's list of special concern species live on the Preserve: the green salamander, the state-endangered Rafinesque's big-eared bat and wood rats. You’ll find a DNR-constructed bat roosting station on the Loop, and see plenty of evidence of deer, bear, turkey and all kinds of birds. While circumnavigating the lake the trail crosses a spillway on some stones; I’m told this is a favorite spot for snakes in warmer weather.

A DNR-constructed bat roost for Rafinesque's big-eared bat

While a spring hike will bring a multitude of wildflowers, a summer hike might reveal the pitcher plants in full bloom, and autumn foliage is entirely a show in itself. For a longer hike jump on the Mountain Bridge Passage Trail north to a waterfall on Wattacoo Creek, or south to the old Camp Spearhead. For a challenge explore the Chandler Rock Trail which makes the steep climb up Green Mountain. Take a picnic with to enjoy while admiring the view of Lake Wattacoo, or bring a fishing pole to test your luck in the lake. And when you’re finished, head a little further up Persimmon Ridge Road to Eva Russell Chandler Heritage Preserve, or jump back out to Highway 11 and Wildcat Branch Falls… Whatever you choose, you are bound to find the solitude and natural beauty you were searching for… See you on the trail!


Wondering what other Heritage Preserves are in our area? These are my favorites:

Friday, March 9, 2018

Abanico Tapas Bar, Spanish small plates in Greenville

There is no other place in Greenville like it, and the luscious Spanish tapas will only tempt your tastebuds more as we slowly turn the corner into spring and roll into the heat of summer…

Abanico Tapas Bar - Restaurant & Music opened its doors four months ago, serving a menu of small plates as well as a few entrees. The name means ‘fan’ and is a nod to the owner’s Spanish roots as well as the range of items on the menu. A Madrid native, Amador Herraiz has hired a chef from Spain in a successful effort to recreate the authentic Spanish tapas experience here in Greenville.

The menu is bursting with flavor; seafood options such as Gambas a la Plancha (prawn seared with sea salt & olive oil), Atun con Salsa de Frutos (seared ahi tuna with wild berry sauce) and Coca de Venduras con Anchoa (puff pastry with roasted peppers, onions & anchovy) dominate the current menu, although vegetables make intriguing appearances in dishes like the Coles de Bruselas (fried Brussel sprouts with mojo sauce and Manchego cheese) and Champinones Relleno (stuffed mushroom with goat cheese and ham). A robust drinks menu that includes favorite local drought beers and a generous pour on the wine, combined with delectable dessert offerings such as Spanish flan rounds out the package – what more could you want?

Gambas a la Plancha with Coles de Bruselas and Chiperones Fritas in the background

Maybe dancing? The club upstairs offers a venue for music and dancing, as well as private events. Salsa lessons, DJs, dancing late into the night…
Well, that’s a fantasy for this mom right now, because in reality we are toting three young children around, so any restaurant we frequent has to be open before 6pm and family friendly – which is another way Abanico stands out in the Greenville scene. So many children’s menus offer the same things: chicken nuggets, hot dogs and burgers. The closest thing to a burger on the menu was the Pincho de Chorizo (house-made Spanish sausage with baguette), yet the boys all left with their appetites sated and having tried a dozen new things – without even knowing it. Meanwhile, the adults were able to enjoy a mouthwatering meal that effortlessly brought back memories of paella on the Mediterranean

Pescaito Frito, whole small fried fish

The thing about tapas is that they are small, and they are meant to share. You order something and the kids don’t like it? Fine, the adults eat it and there is no waste of food. You want to try something new? Go ahead and order it, it’s not going to hit the wallet like an uneaten entrée. If you really have a picky eater try the Patatas con Tres Salsas (potatoes w/ 3 sauces), bound to satisfy even the fussiest eater. But if your children are like mine (hungry!) they will try a few things and put together a customized meal, broadening their palates and discovering new foods in the process.


This post is part of the Food on Friday series. For more featured restaurants, click here.

Want to read about the freshly caught seafood, Gypsy Kings-style music, Mediterranean breezes and Spanish architecture feels that a meal at Abanico will evoke? You’ll want to read my post about Saintes-Maries-de-La-Mer, Barcelona, and Gaudí

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Cowpens, our very own Upstate SC battlefield

January 17, 1781 – the Battle of Cowpens.

US Memorial Monument in honor of all the men who fought at Cowpens

Last week we featured Ninety Six National Historic Site, site of the American Revolution’s first major land battle in the South. It was a little later in the Revolutionary War that brigadier general Daniel Morgan was sent into western South Carolina with his “Flying Army” to operate on the British left flank and rear (led by British commander in the south Major Gen. Cornwallis). Cornwallis responded by dispatching Banastre Tarleton along with the British Legion to counter Morgan… and the rest is history.

Morgan sent for militia units from SC, NC and Georgia – men who had fought at Musgrove Mill and Kings Mountain – but was still outnumbered when Tarleton caught up to them in Upstate SC. Choosing to stand and fight, Morgan devised a battle plan and dug in at the Cow Pens, a frontier pasturing ground on the road to a ford across the Broad River six miles to the northwest. Today, these fields and surrounding 842 acres are Cowpens National Battlefield. Our recent visit was also on a chilly winter morning – but some 237 years after the battle.

On the morning of the January 17th, 1781, Morgan received word that Tarleton had crossed the Pacolet River 12 miles to the south. He knew what he was up against, and devised a plan to counter British battle tactics, relying on the firing distance of the long rifle (200 yards vs. the musket’s 50) and his chosen topography to win the battle against muskets and bayonets.

He placed his militia sharpshooters on the front line in two small groups. When the British came into view just before dawn, the sharpshooters dropped two-thirds of the British officers before withdrawing behind the second line, Andrew Pickens’ regional militia. Together they were to deliver two volleys ‘at a killing distance’ before falling back to Howard’s Continentals. All went according to plan up until that point – but the British still surged forward, and after fierce fighting the entire line began a retreat. Morgan rallied his troops at the last line, and here the Washington cavalry also joined the melee. Pickens’ militia opened fire on the dragoons and Highlanders, and suddenly, the battle was over. In less than an hour 110 British were killed, 229 wounded and 600 captured (compared to 24 killed and 104 wounded for Morgan), and Tarleton fled, the British Legion cavalry falling in behind him.

We started off on our walking tour of Cowpens National Battlefield from the Visitor Center on the Battlefield Trail. The 1¼-mile self-guided tour takes visitors straight across the battlefield on Green River Road, with informational placards posted at the various points where Morgan’s forces had been stationed. We passed the line of Howard’s Continentals and the Pickens’ Militia, down past where the sharpshooters had been stationed all the way to Tarleton’s front line: the Dragoons, Fusiliers and Infantry. Looking back at the ground we had covered, we found it amazing how well-utilized the topography had been in the battle; the field has three low crests separated by wide swales, and the various lines optimized the high ground as well as cover provided by each.

The trail winds around through a wetlands area and a hardwoods forest, and then arrives back at the Visitor Center. If you haven’t already, watch the short film and explore the exhibits before returning to your car for the driving loop portion of the Cowpens experience.

The Auto Loop Road takes visitors on a 3-mile loop around the perimeter of the battlefield. Wayside exhibits, overlooks and short trails at several points along the way provide additional insight into the battle, while a stop at the 1800s reconstructed Robert Scruggs House provokes thought of how a family with 11 children managed to live in such a small cabin.

Scruggs cabin

A group shelter, restrooms and picnic area are located on the far side of the loop, as well as the trailhead for the 2-mile Cowpens Nature Trail that loops down to the river. After finishing the loop you’ll emerge back out on the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway, a short drive from Gaffney, SC.

Cowpens is about a 1-hour drive from Greenville. For hours and other info, please visit their website. The Cowpens National Battlefield was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966. It is also on the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail, the 330-mile commemorative motor route that shadows the march of the 1,000-strong Patriot militia in 1780.


Cornwallis would continue north to Guilford Courthouse, Petersburg and his eventual surrender in Yorktown in October 1781, but the victory at Cowpens was new hope for the American Revolution. 

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