Imagine what could be

Published 1:20 pm Thursday, January 4, 2024

I had a dream of the way Polk County could be in 50 years if we work at it hard enough, and keep what is best about our communities while the future forces certain changes to be made because of increased population, etc. Here’s what I saw in my dream.

A green web: Public spaces and trails all through the residential communities and out to homes, farms and forests out of town, where people can walk on trails or sit on a bench. Some of these little parks are lineal parks, some large and some quite small. There are enough open spaces, with trees, that everyone living in town can walk to a quiet place within ¼ mile of their back door. And, there are community gardens in town and out of town, where people can grow their vegetables or flowers, and parents can teach their children how to garden.

There are sidewalks all through the cities and towns, and there are no roads wider than two lanes. Residential development had been encouraged where the homes are within walking distance to stores, schools and public services, with sidewalks connecting homes to Main Street. Sections at the edge of town, but within the town limits, have been rezoned for multiple housing to accommodate the growing population, but the cities and towns have mandated that every residential development preserve 50% of the land for a common area, owned by all the residents, or owned by a community land trust. On land owned by the community land trust, residents lease the land with a 99-year lease and only own the “improvements” on the land. This enables families and people with limited income to live in our beautiful county.

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Most importantly, what I saw in this dream was the beauty of the huge old trees everywhere, even more beautiful than they were when I was alive. And I saw people walking everywhere, and saying “Hi” to each other as they passed. I could not tell if they were rich folks or poor folks, and there was more ethnic diversity than there was when I was alive. 

And, oh, the music! Saluda, Columbus and Tryon had kept their small-town character in spite of the roar coming from I-26. There was no railroad, but the tracks had been converted from rails to trails, which connected the towns folk. One lane was a bike lane. And the old springs by the railroad tracks had been refurbished, so walkers and bikers could get a drink of water as they went by.

Since our existence is directly connected to the earth and wildlife, most of the land outside city and town limits has been preserved. Small farms exist and thrive on the outskirts of town, with trails leading to town. Many of these trails follow the creeks, but many run along the mountain ridges. Some of these trails are on privately owned land, but many are on land owned by Conserving Carolina or Saluda Community Land Trust (SCLT). And SCLT also owns land that is leased to farmers, with 99-year leases similar to the residential neighborhoods that are owned by SCLT in town. Because of these trails, inside and outside of the city limits, cars are used less; people walk or ride their golf carts rather than drive. Saluda is surrounded by a living green envelope of sorts.

And, maybe best of all, the city policemen walk around town to check on things, rather than drive. And they know people by their names, rather than by the car they drive.

Imagine a river basin, where the waters from the hills flow to the fields and bottomlands downstream. There lie the fields that feed the people living in the small towns of Polk County. Imagine those streams also being green corridors that connect the towns with the surrounding natural beauty of this region; those corridors feed the hearts and souls of all those who live in and around our county.

Just imagine…