A drive past the intersection of South Boundary Avenue and Laurens Street confirms that the Hitchcock Gateway Project is well underway. This ambitious project is on track to deliver a new community asset while simultaneously addressing the long-standing soil erosion and sedimentation issues in Hitchcock Woods caused by uncontrolled stormwater runoff from the city. The project continues to be on budget and is expected to be completed prior to Thanksgiving.
The installation of stormwater vaults has been completed in the back section of the project (closer to the Woods) and that section has been covered with soil. The section closer to Laurens Street is now prepped for the installation of stormwater vaults which is slated for May and June. That section will then be covered with soil in June and July.
The project team recently completed one change order to the project which involved digging 20 holes measuring 30’ in depth and 36” in diameter. These holes allow water held in this front section to better drain naturally through a layer of kaolin that was discovered at the level where the vaults were to be installed. Gravel was added to level the bottom of the site and the performance of the French drains is proving to be excellent; drainage rates are expected to be at least as good as planned for this project.
The project schedule in September and October calls for the installation and testing of the Opti Control system as well as landscaping work on the new greenspace that will create a more visible and accessible entrance to Hitchcock Woods. The Opti Control system is a series of smart valves will allow for the controlled release of stormwater held in the vaults prior to a major weather event.
The goal of the Gateway greenspace is to create a new community asset that enables more residents and visitors to learn about and experience the history and natural beauty of Hitchcock Woods. People will be able to walk to the Gateway from town as well as from the County Museum by pedestrian walkways.
The greenspace itself will be replanted with mature trees and native plants (including live oaks and magnolias) and will have a permeable walking path that routes visitors toward the Woods while offering educational kiosks as well as other points of interest (e.g., pollinator garden, rain garden) along the way. There will also be a bridle path for horses to better access the Woods.
Plans for the Gateway continue to evolve, and several new features have been added including:
- Painted Horse: The city has commissioned a new painted horse to be named “Gateway” that will be placed near the entrance to the greenspace. The preliminary design of this horse highlights both environmental and equestrian features of the Woods (e.g., fox squirrels, red cockaded woodpeckers and longleaf pines, along with a rider jumping a horse).
- Margaret Shealy Memorial: The Aiken Garden Club is adding a tribute to Margaret that includes a bench and plaque near a white oak sapling that was grown from a Maid Marion tree acorn.
- History of Aiken and the Railroad: Plans are developing to use
the Gateway to highlight the connection between Hitchcock Woods and the role of the railroad in Aiken’s history. The original route of the Best Friend railroad went through Hitchcock Woods very close to the Gateway. An archaeological dig conducted in 2017 identified artifacts from this early railroad history and supported this area being put on the National Register of Historic Places.
- Educational Kiosks: Plans are coming together for a series of educational kiosks that address various topics of interest. These topics include the flora and fauna of the Woods, the history of the Woods and the stormwater management work completed at this site. Kiosks will be designed to be a quick read (limited text with plenty of images) but will include a QR code that enables people to access more information if desired.
The Aiken Land Conservancy continues to be excited about the potential of this project to be a win-win for the community, addressing the long-standing environmental issues caused by stormwater while at the same time creating a new community asset. We are continuing to work closely with the city and the Hitchcock Woods Foundation to ensure this project delivers on this promise.