For several years, folks have been able to enjoy access to great vistas, fishing and strolling at Shem Creek Park. Now things are about to get even more interesting.
The town has plans for increasing public access to the dock space behind Vickery’s Restaurant, Shem Creek Inn, the Dive Shop and Mt. Pleasant Seafood. Currently, use of the creek-side docks is mostly limited to patrons of those businesses and owners of the charter boats who rent space there. The new project will connect those privately-owned docks to the park’s existing 2,200 feet of boardwalk. A small bridge will be added over Jones Creek, allowing pedestrians to walk all the way around the marsh in one continuous loop.
Rial Fitch and Billy Simmons, the Mount Pleasant businessmen who own the docks, have granted easements to the town, allowing replacement of the fixed portion of the existing docks while retaining the floating docks for their own commercial use.
“It’s a great opportunity to demonstrate how private and public sector partnerships are able to work toward a much larger shared benefit,” said Kevin Mitchell, planning engineer and project manager for the town.
Town Councilman Elton Carrier agreed, explaining that “the current owners benefit from getting the new docks and improved pilings. They still own the property but the easement gives permission for the town and public to use it.”
“Red Simmons (Billy’s brother) and I wanted to do it 30 years ago,” Fitch explained.
Back then, the men even had the notion for the town to construct a walkway near the bridge on Coleman Boulevard to connect the two sides of the creek. At the time, Fitch said, they were told their idea wouldn’t work. So when town officials recently asked them to strike a deal to join the docks of Shem Creek Park to their private property, they were happy to comply. Carrier, chairman of the Recreation Committee and member of the Finance, Planning and Economic Development committees, said “It was always a long-range plan, but we just needed to wait until the money was available. Eventually, the Department of Transportation will replace the Shem Creek bridge, and a redesign will allow a safe walkway over to the other side, too.”
The work slated for this year is Phase II of the Shem Creek Park project. Since construction bids haven’t been accepted yet, the final cost of the project hasn’t been determined.
“When the town bought the property for Phase I of the park years ago at a cost of $6 million, there was some controversy,” Carrier remembered. “But if we hadn’t done that, there would be another office building there today.”
Bayview Acres resident Annie Stone, whose home backs up to the marsh, said, “I’m all for allowing access to the water for more people rather than just the privileged few. I love seeing people running and biking on the docks. The town spared no expense at building the park’s boardwalks, and, if they do something of that caliber, it will be good. We have a boat which we can get under the small pedestrian bridge that crosses over Jones Creek near Vickery’s, so I don’t see a problem with building another bridge of that height.”
Jared Alverson, the general manager of Vickery’s, is also pleased with the plan.
“I think it will be good for the area’s businesses, and it will make our restaurant more accessible,” he said.
Craig Strickler, regional director of operations for Charlestowne Hotels, the group that manages Shem Creek Inn, said, “The hotel’s guests frequently ask how they can get to the town’s dock, so this is definitely a positive thing. We love our location and love progress, so we are making plans to improve the hotel to keep pace.”
People will be able to access Shem Creek Park from four locations: Coleman Boulevard, the Dive Shop, Vickery’s and the existing entrance at the public parking area. The project is slated to be completed by next year.
By Mary Coy.