The city of Aiken and the Hitchcock Woods Foundation worked together to address the impact of storm water runoff from the town on the Woods. The most notable effect is that over time, erosion had created a deep canyon at the source of the Sand River making that area unsafe for visitors due to unstable ground.
A series of underground retention vaults that will hold storm water runoff would be constructed on properties at the entrance to the Woods, which will allow water to naturally filter into the ground below and
use smart valves to allow for the controlled release of water during prior to large storm events. The vaults will allow the collected water to naturally filter into the ground below. If the computerized Opti System forecasts an upcoming storm event, the system initiates the controlled release of water into Sand River prior to the storm. The City anticipates the work on the stormwater project will be completed by September 2022.
Although the work requires the clearing of the property where the vaults will be installed, the City, the Hitchcock Woods Foundation, the Aiken Land Conservancy, and Aiken Streetscapes have joined together to develop a plan to create a new community green space when the project is completed. Working plans for the Gateway Greenway provide for replanting the cleared areas with appropriate, long-lived trees (including some grand trees like live oaks), pollinator gardens, magnolias, camellia bushes, and flowers, to name a few, as well as the construction of walking paths and the installation of benches and educational kiosks. When completed, the Gateway Greenway will serve as a beautiful community asset that connectss the main entrance of the Hitchcock Woods to Aiken’s historic downtown area.
“The Land Conservancy is excited about this project as a ‘“win-win’” for the City and the community,” says Jim Cunningham, the President of Aiken Land Conservancy. “It addresses both a long-standing environmental issue affecting the Hitchcock Woods—the largest, privately owned urban forest in the country—while also creating an exciting new community asset that will allow Aiken residents and visitors to experience the natural beauty of our town.
The Hitchcock Woods Gateway capitalizes on this storm water solution to create a new community asset that will encourage more visitors and residents to experience and utilize one of Aiken’s gams.