Historic Flood Carves Uncertain Path for River Rocks Festival

Apr 21, 2016

The River Rocks Music Festival is normally held at River Front Park in downtown Columbia. Event organizers would drive across the Columbia Canal to transport items for the festival. During October’s historic rain event, the site was flooded, the performance stage destroyed and a 60-foot hole forced through a section of the canal.
Credit Thelisha Eaddy/SC Public Radio

  The River Rocks Music Festival is in search of a new home.  The annual event serves as a fundraiser for the River Keeper, a grass-root nonprofit that works to protect the Broad, Saluda and Congaree rivers. The family-friendly event is normally held at River Front Park, but October’s historic rain event destroyed the site’s wooden stage, flooded the field, and blew a 60-foot hole in the adjacent Columbia Canal. River Front Park reopened to the public in March, but the concert area is stilled closed. Festival organizers are on the hunt, once again, for a new location.

  On March 15, River Front Park reopened its 2.5 miles of walking trail (between the main parking lot on Laurel Street to the Diversion Dam and fish passage at the north end of the park) to the public. “We have a lot of regulars who come out here every day,” said Bill Watson, City of Columbia Lead Park Ranger. Earlier this year, Watson spoke with South Carolina ETV and SC Public Radio President and CEO Linda O’Bryon about the damage sustained at the park. “It’s good to see the regulars come out again and be able to enjoy the park like they’ve done for years,” he said.

A white gate blocks the entrance to the small field where concerts and other events are held at River Front Park. Park Ranger Spencer Watson says because the area has flooded three times since October, large boulders have been put in place to reinforce the bank that swashed away during the flood.
Credit Thelisha Eaddy/SC Public Radio

  There are still repairs to be completed at the park.  When the public resume their walks along the trail, they will soon see a small blue sign affixed to a white gate that reads “THIS AREA CLOSED FOR REPAIRS.” The gate is blocking the entrance to the concert area, where the River Rocks Music Festival would normally be held. Watson said workers had to take extreme measure to ensure the concert area would flood again.

“After the stage was removed and the pumps were pulled up, we had to take large boulders that we had stored at the north end of River Front Park, and we brought them down and reinforced the bank that washed away during the flood.”

Watson said after October’s flood, water has risen probably three times and covered the field area.” He says every time workers would reinforce the bank, it would wash out again.

“It should hold better than again we’ve had before, some of those boulders are the size of Volkswagen Beetles,” he said.

A spokesperson for the city’s parks and recreation department could not confirm a timeline for when the concert area at the park would reopen. But during a Columbia Opportunity Resource (COR) meeting, Assistant Park Ranger Superintendent Karen Swank Kustafik indicated great things are coming for the park.

“We will need your patience for a short time while the canal is rebuilt. But when it’s restored there will be a bridge so you will be able to come from Coble Plaza to Gervais Street, and you will be able to walk across the Columbia Canal and all the way up to the diversion dam,” she said.

Congaree River Keeper Bill Stangler said in spite of the changes and new production costs, this year’s festival was a success. About 750 people attended the event. Stangler said the past two years drew about twice that amount. The amount of money raised for the nonprofit was also lower than normal. As for finding a new location for next year, Stangler said the search begins now.

“We’re looking at where we’re going to be able to have it, because we don’t really know. We’re kind of in a similar position we were in a few months ago. I’m confident we’ll find somewhere to do it. We’ll put up a stage and bring the music and bring the people to the river and they’ll come out.”

More about the damage to the Columbia Canal

Park officials say it will likely be two years before the canal is fixed. Click to hear Columbia’s Director of Utilities and Engineering Joey Jaco and Waterworks Superintendent Clint Shealy explain how the breach occurred and what it will take to repair the levee, plus what improvements the city is considering for the repaired canal.

More about the Congaree River Keeper

The Congaree River Keeper is a nonprofit organization that works to protect the Broad, Saluda and Congaree Rivers.  The organization takes water samples and organizes volunteer-cleanups; as well as comment on permits and file citizen lawsuits. http://www.congareeriverkeeper.org.

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