I had spent three days exploring the state capitol of South Carolina from the Riverside Zoo to the University of South Carolina and everything in between. But on the last morning before I left town along my road trip I made a stop at Riverside Park. I found a completely unexpected, beautiful park teeming with blue herons and great egrets. I ended up spending hours sitting by the roaring water snapping photos with a big grin on my face.
Riverside Park is out of the way and hidden pretty well. There are no big road signs pointing the way and I had not read about it anywhere online during my research before arriving. In fact it was a local who had tipped me off about this really cool place. So I’m sorry to all the locals who love to use this park for walking, kayaking, and fishing because I’m about to blow the lid off your secret.
Driving down the bumpy dirt and gravel road I wasn’t sure I was even in the correct place. There is no street address and my only guide was a pin the friendly local had put on a Google Map for me. But just as a I reached the end of the road I knew I was at the right place; a dozen cars filled the unfinished parking lot. I parked, grabbed my camera bag, and looked for a trail head.
The trail head was actually the beginning of the 3 Rivers Greenway, an 8.5-mile multi-use trail along the Broad River. From here visitors could walk, bike, or jog to the heart of Downtown Columbia. The trail began with a short crossing over a small dam that creates the Columbia Canal.
On the other side of the small dam is a few features of Riverside Park that really surprised me. The first was a long weir dam stretching out across the entire width of the Broad River. A weir dam is essentially a short dam that allows water to flow over the top freely that oxygenates the water for a better fish habitat. Technical description aside it makes for a beautiful sight and roaring water as the entire river flowed over the dam.
The second surprise was the large concrete viewing platform near the end of the weir dam. I couldn’t get too close to the dam (not close enough for the photo I first wanted to capture) but still it’s a pretty nice view of the Broad River and weir dam from there. It’s just above the height of the water so you get a great view, but I’m sure that platform is underwater during flood stages.
There was a small building with what looked like an office of some sort and restrooms at the top of the hill overlooking the dam (vantage point of the photo above). A trail on the left led down to the water where people were swimming in the shallow water and one father/son duo were heading out for some fishing. The concrete viewing platform was down a series of stairs on the right.
The final surprise was the teeming wildlife at the base of the weir dam. Blue herons, great egrets, and large turtles scoured the shallow water for fish in the highly-oxygenated water. I had not seen so many birds in one place since Huntington Beach State Park in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina. It was amazing watching all the birds casually walking through the shallow water and occasionally snagging a fish out of nowhere.
I found a somewhat smooth boulder on the edge of the river and sat there for a couple of hours. I captured photos furiously for the first half hour but then put the bulky camera down and just enjoyed the view. The roaring water drowned out all other sounds. The view across the river was wild and untamed. The wildlife coming and going was like people watching in Times Square. Eventually I tore myself away just so I could walk down the 3 Rivers Greenway for a bit but I already knew I would come back one day.
Has this unexpected park made your Columbia bucket list now?