LOCKHART — State Sen. Harvey Peeler says he will work to help the Town of Lockhart get a boat ramp on the Broad River as part of an effort to promote economic development through recreation and tourism.
Peeler, the Majority Leader of the SC Senate, met with a small group of Lockhart residents during a community workshop at the Lockhart Town Hall Tuesday evening. A major topic of discussion was economic development in the town which has been without a major industry since the closing of Lockhart Mill. Mayor Ailene Ashe said it is unlikely the town will ever be able to attract another large industry.
“We haven’t got the infrastructure to support a large industry,” Ashe said. “We’re too far from the interstate and are on a two-lane highway.”
What Lockhart does have, however, is Broad River, which Ashe and other Lockhart residents said could be developed as a recreational resource that could attract tourists and economic growth to the town. Ashe and other members of the audience said they’d like to see a dock or boat landing built on the river at Lockhart that could be used by residents and tourists alike. They said that at the present time someone wanting to get on the river must go to Pacolet to do so.
Peeler said he felt a boat ramp was a possibility and that he would work with the town and State Rep. Mike Anthony to get one built on the river but cautioned that the process could take some time.
“A boat ramp is not impossible, it just takes a while,” Peeler said. “We’ll sure try to get you a boat ramp.”
The boat ramp would be part of a larger effort to rebuild the town’s economy around recreation and tourism. Another idea discussed at Tuesday’s meeting was the redevelopment of the old Lockhart Mill site. The mill was demolished after being closed and Ashe said she believed if the owner, Pacolet-Milliken, would donate the land to the town, it could be developed into a park.
Land owned by Pacolet-Milliken would also figure in the town’s efforts to secure a boat ramp. Ashe pointed out the company owns land along the river which would be needed for access to the proposed boat ramp and she hoped the company could be persuaded to donate it to the town.
Peeler said he would contact Pacolet-Milliken on behalf of the town.
The biggest stumbling block to the town’s efforts to promote economic development is a lack of funds. The town, which possesses little in the way of a tax base, is the only incoporated municipality in Union County that does not levy a property tax. While annexation has increased its population and therefore the state funding it receives, the town does not possess the financial means to develop a long-range master plan that is the first step in any economic development effort.
“We don’t have the money,” Ashe said. “Pacolet did a master plan with a $25,000 grant, but we can’t do that because those funds have been cut out. We don’t have the money and we can’t get it.”
Peeler said he would contact the Catawba Council on Governments about trying to help the town with developing a long-range master plan. Another possible avenue that Peeler said could be explored was a program at Clemson University where student interns produce economic development studies and plans for communities as a class project. He would see if that program is still available.
Barry Canupp, the owner of the Lockhart Cafe, one of the few businesses located within Lockhart’s municipal limits, pointed out that the town is in a good location to draw literally thousands of hunters, hikers, boaters, fishermen and other tourists to Union County.
“Within 12 miles of where my restaurant is located I can pull in people from five counties,” Canupp said. “In the hunting season it’s out-of-state hunters eating at my restaurant that helps me make it through that time of year.”
Canupp added that if the town were to get a sports complex similar to the Timken Park Sports Complex in Union that would also draw thousands of people.
Lockhart’s potential is not only recognized by its residents, but by at least one outsider as well. Canupp said a man he described as “an investor from Atlanta,” had visited the town some time ago and expressed an interest in building condominiums and even a golf course. He said the man, who is also looking at sites in other counties along Broad River, wants to build on the river or as near to it as possible.
“He wants to attract older people, older people with money,” Canupp said. “He’s got the finances but he needs land.”
Ashe pointed out that Lockhart’s recreational and tourist potential makes it an undeveloped economic resource for Union County.
“Union County doesn’t realize the’ve got something here that could be really beautiful,” Ashe said.
“Recreation and tourism would be a perfect fit for Lockhart,” Peeler said. “We’re going to try and help you take advantage of your location on the Broad River. It’s a hidden treasure.”