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Upstate Forever celebrates anniversary while showing off Glendale community

By Dustin Wyatt
dustin.wyatt@shj.com
Spartanburg (SC) Herald-Journal
Published: Saturday, November 9, 2013

B.G. Stephens, a former Wofford College professor, grew up in the Glendale community.

The 78-year-old went to church in the old building that now houses the Glendale Outdoor Leadership School. He vividly remembers the morning in 2004 when the old mill on the banks of Lawson's Fork Creek burned down.

Stephens says his hometown, the compact mill village located in eastern Spartanburg County, has stood the test of time. It's actually improved over the years, he said.

"We still have the houses, (including the one he grew up in) and the streets," he said, standing on the steps of his former church looking out toward rows of old homes. "It's improved from the ground up."

Upstate Forever, a nonprofit with a mission to protect special places and promote sensible growth in the Upstate, held its annual membership meeting in Glendale Saturday. The purpose of the meeting, which brought in more than 100 members from 10 counties across the Upstate region, was to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the nonprofit and reflect on all of the accomplishments throughout the years,

But the nonprofit also celebrated and showcased "a special place" called Glendale.

"We are bringing a lot of people in to see what's going on in Glendale," said Emily Neely, development associate with Upstate Forever. "Glendale is a gem for Spartanburg County. There are other places with protected land, but Glendale has so much going for it — educational and recreational programming, historic buildings, synergistic partnerships. It is a special place."

In 2004, the Palmetto Conservation Foundation renovated Glendale United Methodist Church, which now houses the Glendale Outdoor Leadership School. The leadership school offers outdoor adventure opportunities, including special programs for children, team-building and leadership training.

In 2010, Wofford College saw an opportunity in a part of the old mill that survived the fire. The college turned the mill office building into the Goodall Environmental Studies Center, which serves as the hub of Wofford's environmental studies program. The center is named after Chris Goodall, a 1979 Wofford graduate who made the lead gift toward the $1.2 million renovation project completed just in time for the 2009-10 academic year.

Even though Upstate Forever has not yet played a part in Glendale's progress over the years, they have been instrumental in several projects since its inception 15 years ago.

Upstate Forever has protected almost 18,000 acres of land in the Upstate and holds more acreage through conservation easements than any other land trust in the region, including in Spartanburg County.

Neely said the nonprofit, through the years, has helped prevent a new mega-landfill from opening in the county, helped save Lake Greenwood from sediment and phosphorus pollution and played a part in making the Swamp Rabbit Trail a reality for Greenville County.

Dick Carr, chairman of Upstate Forever, said the group's annual meetings are planned at a different location throughout the Upstate each November. This year, it was Spartanburg's turn to host the meeting. Carr said he knew of no better place than Glendale.

"We wanted to have our meeting here because of what everyone has done here," said Carr, who lives in Spartanburg. "We wanted to show off Spartanburg; we felt this was the best way."

Saturday afternoon, after the meeting, attendees were invited to learn more about the area and participate in several scheduled events.

They could walk a nature hike along the Shoals, take part in a low-challenge ropes course, get a tour of the Goodall Center, or learn about the history of the textile mill.

The Glendale Outdoor Leadership School and the Palmetto Conservation Foundation also touted several projects that are in the works.

The leadership school is expected to open its new high-ropes course on November 21. Kari Hanna, director of the school, said the equipment and construction cost about $75,000 and was paid for by grants from the Mary Black Foundation, Spartanburg County Parks Department and the county.

"It's a huge project for us," Hanna said. "It's something we have wanted to do for a few years now. It's going to really add a huge piece to what we already have there, the low-course and the wall climb. It's really going to complete the facility."

George Fields, with the Palmetto Conservation Foundation, talked about plans to renovate the iconic iron bridge, spanning a waterfall on Lawson's Fork Creek that overlooks the ruins of Glendale mill.

The restoration project includes hiring a contractor to strip the bridge of asphalt and replace it with oak planks. Fields said the work also will include restoring the bridge's original wood sidewalks, paint the rusting trusses, and add lighting to the bridge.

The project has a budget of $642,000, Fields said. Renovations are expected to begin in the summer of 2014.

"This is going to be the pearl of this community when it gets done," said Stephens.

The longtime Glendale resident drove a golf cart beside the remaining remnants of the old mill and stopped momentarily to point to Lawson's Fork Creek as it cascaded over rocks and meandered through the trees.

"Isn't it beautiful?" he said. "This is Spartanburg's best kept secret."

(Reprinted with permission)