March 4, 2022 (Source: Greenville News) – With large tracts of land turning into subdivision seemingly overnight to accommodate the Upstate’s growth, the city of Mauldin is celebrating the grand opening of a 120-acre park that will forever keep green in Greenville.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday at The Preserve at Lakewood, the DidierGroup’s second privately owned public park in the Upstate, marked the formal opening of the park just inside Mauldin city limits.
The Orlando, Florida-based DidierGroup bought 120 acres that back up to the Reedy River in 2017 and worked with the Atlantic Coast Conservancy — the less athletic ACC — to place a conservation easement on the property, meaning it will be open green space forever.
“This was a good place for us to get in and say, ‘Hey, how do we try to change things before they can’t be changed? How do we find land like this,” Hank Didier said, gesturing at the Preserve at Lakewood, “that’s conserved now permanently?”
The ACC manages the conservation with visits on an annual basis, at minimum, to make sure no development is taking place.
Through reservations, the private park is open to the public for cross country training, camping, fundraiser 5Ks and more.
Clemson University students are studying its trees, grasses and water management, the Didiers said.
The highlight of the property for Hank and Allison is the Sustainability Education Center.
Educating the next generation on sustainability
An Orlando native, Allison said she watched her hometown become overdeveloped and overcrowded. After Hank retired from environmental law in 2016, they looked for ways to encourage smart growth and sustainability.
While exploring the Upstate, they realized the Greenville area had potential to balance growth and greenspace, they said. The city was doing a better job of managing its growth, Hank said, and he wanted to do his part.
It didn’t take long to find multiple properties to start their preservation and sustainability efforts. They bought the former Millstone Golf Course, a 200-acre property on New Easley Highway, in September 2017 and turned it into The Preserve at Riverwest in Greenville.
When a second opportunity arose nearby, they jumped on it.
A metal building on the property at 220 Lakewood Drive in Mauldin quickly had a new purpose once the Didiers secured a conservation easement on the property in 2018. Solar panels and skylights were added to the roof and education panels mounted to the walls to tell the story of sustainability.
The husband-and-wife team hope it hosts field trips for years to come with students eating lunch at the picnic tables while enjoying an off-grid day at the preserve.
“I think this is the wave of the future,” Allison said. “Our generations below us know this — they want to know more, and they want to live like this. So we just want to help that along.”
The center provides a hands-on display of renewable energy sources and the purpose of land conservation. Corporate sponsors and community partners have come together to make the center possible, she said, along with several other community events at the park.
“We’ve had individual requests, family requests, group requests, so, you know, we’re happy to accommodate any and all,” Allison said.
COVID pandemic sparked new park to develop 5K opportunities
While the park and sustainability center are established, there’s still plenty of room for green growth and nearly limitless opportunities, Hank said. The more partners they have — and more funding — the more they can do with the space.
COVID-19 changed the way many people looked at outdoor activity, Hank said, and it changed a bit of the use for The Preserve at Lakewood, too.
When Conestee Park, less than two miles away, closed during the pandemic, the preserve, even before its full opening, absorbed a lot of cross-country activities, Hank said. That placed an emphasis on running and helped create what he calls a “5K in a box.”
Any group that wants to host a cardio-heavy fundraiser is welcome to use the trails already cut through the preserve and donate the entry fees as they see fit, he said.
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