Hitchcock Woods Gateway Project Nearing Completion

Focus is now to create a major new greenspace for Aiken

Aiken residents traveling past the corner of South Boundary Avenue and Laurens Street have noticed that major
construction work on the stormwater management project was completed in July. Underground stormwater vaults are now in place and have been re-covered with dirt – and the smart OPTI control system is being tested.

Once completed, this system will optimize the management of stormwater flowing from the city of Aiken, allowing it to percolate into the ground more slowly and thereby reducing future environmental damage to the Hitchcock Woods caused by unregulated stormwater runoff.

With this work nearing completion, the focus is now on creating a major new green space on this site to be called Gateway to Hitchcock Woods. This new green space will increase visibility and accessibility to one of Aiken’s most significant natural assets – the Hitchcock Woods.

Plans call for this new green space to be re-landscaped to create an attractive place for visitors to come and learn more about the Woods and related topics. There will be walking paths from town as well as from the Aiken County Historical Museum to allow people to access the site by foot. And there will be walking paths through the site to encourage those interested to continue their walk into the Woods.

The landscape plan for the area closest to Laurens Street calls for mature trees to be planted around the outside of the site where their root systems can fully develop. These trees will include a mix of red and chestnut oaks, sweet bay magnolias, red maples and red cedars. The interior of the site will include open space along with a mix of small trees and shrubs. There will also be a rain garden and a pollinator garden.

The Aiken Land Conservancy and Streetscapes (a private foundation devoted to protecting Aiken’s trees) have participated in the creation of the landscape plan for this site and are providing funding of up to $36,000 (split evenly between the two organizations) to support this plan.

Educational “way stations” along the walkways at this site are being developed by HW Exhibits, a nationally recognized exhibition planning organization. Funding from the Hitchcock Woods Foundation facilitated the addition of this expertise to the project team. Topics to be addressed at these way stations include:

  • The history of the Woods, its current uses, the flora and fauna of the Woods as well as trail maps and information on longleaf pine restoration and the reintroduction of the red cockaded woodpecker
  • The role of the railroad in the founding of Aiken and findings from the recent archeological dig in the Woods. The original railroad line went through the Woods and the relics of early railroad history found in the archeological dig helped place this site on the National Register of Historic places.
  • The importance of Aiken’s natural beauty as reflected in the citywide arboretum and efforts by ALC, Streetscapes and the city of Aiken to protect Aiken’s trees

This outdoor exhibit will continue as visitors move further down the site toward the Woods. The landscape plan for the property on the left of South Boundary as visitors walk toward the Woods calls for a wildflower garden in the meadow with an overlook from above.

The plan also calls for the re-creation of the railroad inclined plane system only a few hundred yards from its actual location. The overlook platform will be placed at the approximate position where the engine house for the stationary steam engine would have been located. Parallel railroad tracks (made of longleaf pine) will connect to the engine house illustrating how rail cars moved up and down the plane with the weight of one set of cars moving down the tracks acting as a counterweight to reduce the power required to move another set of cars up the steep grade.

The goal is to complete the bulk of this work by the end of the year. Landscaping (including planting and pathway development) will begin this month and will take approximately six weeks. Work on the outdoor exhibit is ongoing and will be in place by early next year. And the reproduction of the railroad inclined plane will start later this year and will be fully installed by next Spring.

ALC is excited this project will have the dual benefit of addressing the environmental issues from stormwater runoff while at the same time creating a new community asset highlighting Aiken’s history and natural beauty. We look forward to sharing the results with the Aiken community.