The nationally recognized South Carolina National Heritage Corridor is a grassroots initiative designed to use natural, cultural, and historic resources to provide economic development through tourism. Conceived and initiated in one rural community, the 240-mile corridor has grown to include 14 counties of western South Carolina, from the mountains of Oconee County to the port city of Charleston. These counties are divided into four regions, which reveal a vibrant history of the land and its people.
The management of the corridor combines a non-profit partnership board, state agencies, regional boards, local governments and private sector partners to create a network of sponsors that touch every aspect of the 14 corridor countries. The South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreational & Tourism coordinate the development process with the Heritage Partnership Board having the overall responsibility for the corridor. As testament to its significance, the South Carolina Heritage Corridor attained federal designation as a national Heritage Area in 1996.
Belton is in the Region One sector and lies directly on the Discovery Route on the Heritage Corridor.
Discovery and nature routes: Two parallel corridor-wide routes will run the length of the Heritage corridor to act as entrances to the corridors regions. The routes will connect and tie the 14 countries into one tourism destination. The discovery route links many of the corridors many of the corridors significant historic sites and settlements. This route will begin in the mill villages of the Upstate, run through the historic courthouse towns of Pendleton, Edgefield and Abbeville, visit the military sites of Ninety-Six, follow the south Carolina Railroad through Aiken’s horse country, and arrive in historic Charleston’s wealth of African-American and Antebellum history. The nature route is a gateway to a wide variety of South Carolina’s natural resources. Beginning in the waterfalls and mountains of Table Rock and the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area, the nature route winds along Russell and Thurmond Lakes and on to the Savannah River. The route follows the Edisto River, the longest free flowing black water river in America, until it reaches the ACE Basin and coastal plain of the Low country.
Regional Discovery Centers: A primary element of the Corridor’s framework are the regional discovery centers. These centers present the Corridor to the visitor and provide regional education and information. The interpretation provided accent the themes unique to each region as well as demonstrate the common threads that run throughout the corridor. From these centers, visitors can embark on a series of Regional Trails ranging from military history, bird watching, and arts and crafts, to the story of cotton and African-American heritage. The Region 1 Discovery Center is named the Fran Hanson Discovery Center and opened in May 2001. The Fran Hanson Discovery Center is located in the SC Botanical Garden on the Campus of Clemson University and serves Pickens, Oconee and Anderson counties. In its first year of operations it saw over 20,000 visitors. Region II’s Discovery Center is on target to open in April 2003, and it will be located in Edgefield. Region III’s Discovery Center is scheduled to open in December 2003 in Blackville (Barnwell County), and Region IV’s will be opened in Charleston in 2004.
Regional Trails: Each of the four regions will have regional trails to feature the key resources and activities of the area. These routes will encircle each region’s Discovery Center and enable visitors to explore the area resources. Customized itineraries will be developed to accompany the routes and tell visitors the special stories of each part of the corridor.
Benefits of the Corridor: As an economic development initiative for rural South Carolina, the Corridor could attract 700,000 visitors while generating a possible $83.5 million in tourism revenue each year. Designated as a national heritage area, the Corridor brings in tourism’s dollars that create employment opportunities, supports existing businesses, increases tax revenues, and provides opportunities for new economic activity.
“South Carolina’s Heritage Corridor plan also illustrates how a strategically developed state local, public-private initiative can bring capital investment, jobs, thousands of visitors, and millions of new tourism dollars to the undiscovered rural areas of a state.”
Support: South Carolina’s first heritage effort has gained recognition and support as a vehicle for rural economic revitalization since its inception in 1990. Since then more than 1000 people have organized themselves at community, county, and regional levels to inventory and analyze the resources available for developing South Carolina’s Heritage Corridor. An ISTEA grant from South Carolina’s Department of Transportation provided the funding to hire the nationally recognized heritage areas planning team of Lane, Frenchman & Associates from Boston to formulate a strategic plan for the development and management of the corridor in addition, nearly $2 million in grants has already been awarded to the project from such sources as the South Carolina Arts commission, the south Carolina Arts commission, the South Carolina Humanities Council, the U.S. Department of Highways and Public Transportation. Currently, the corridor is awaiting congressional designation as a National Heritage Area. This designation will recognize South Carolina’s Heritage Corridor as an area that tells a nationally significant story, the story of a way of life that eventually led to a war that threatened to divide a nation.
Strategy: In addition to providing a blueprint for developing and managing a heritage tourism program. South Carolina’s Heritage Corridor plan also illustrates how a strategically developed state-local, public-private initiative can bring capital investment, jobs, thousands of visitors, and millions of new tourism dollars to the undiscovered rural areas of a state. Key elements of the plan are the development of new tourism products using each region’s unique resources and the creative marketing of these products for positive visitor experiences. This development strategy will be implemented in a number or ways.
- Themes: The central themes Working Places and southern Culture will provide a frame-work for understanding how the varied quality of the land forms located along the corridor not only influenced the man-made environment and how settlers develop their economies but also produced the two distinctively different cultures of South Carolina’s Up Country and Low Country.
- Corridor Wide Discovery Routes: Parallel byways running the length of the Heritage corridor will emphasize its historic and natural resources. Serving as spines that link the various resources of the regions through a distinctive system of signs, these discovery routes will show the corridor’s identity and provide a planned itinerary for visitors by linking significant historic sites, towns, and natural resources.
- Regional Heritage Discovery Centers: Each region will develop a Discovery Center to provide interpretation of regional attractions and to serve as a gateway for exploring the lesser known resources of the Heritage Corridor in addition, the staff and volunteers will assist visitors with itinerary planning and reservation. Properties characteristic of each region have been chosen as the sites for theses Discovery centers.
- Regional Discovery trails: A network of Regional Trails is being developed by each region to compliment the Regional Discovery Centers. This network will feature the key resources in the corridor and guide visitors in their exploration of each region.
The development and marketing of these and other tourism products throughout each region of South Carolina’s Heritage corridor will:
- Strengthen the demand for goods and services in communities for goods and services in communities of all sizes.
- Maintain or raise the quality of life in existing communities and encourage rural economic development.
In addition, there will be development opportunities throughout the corridor for the private sector. Businesses that compliment heritage-based and nature-based tourism, such as bed and breakfasts, museums, restaurants, and retail shops will be assisted as part of the overall heritage tourism initiative.
For more information and a free map of the Heritage Corridor, please visit the South Carolina National Heritage Corridor website.