David Harris’ doorstep lies a little more than 50 feet from the Savannah River. Whenever he has a mind to, he can step down to the boat dock for some fishing or to take a cruise up the river.
His beautiful view of the Augusta riverfront is much the same as the $700,000 home about 300 feet upriver. It all costs Harris about $400 a month.
“It’s a real nice place,” he said. “You can’t beat it.”
Harris’ homestead isn’t one of the opulent estates that have sprung up along the North Augusta side of the river in the past 10 years. He lives in a modest camper trailer in the only such site still available for those with more modest means.
Situated at the base of the Norfolk Southern railroad bridge, the RV park has only a few residents staying in three riverfront spots. The only access is from Sand Pit Road across the Fifth Street Bridge.
The 63-year-old retired construction worker said he’s been living there for about two years. He was staying at campgrounds on Lake Thurmond when he spotted a classified ad for the park on the river.
“I said I’ll be there next month, and I was,” said Harris, who was out Wednesday for an afternoon cigarette and a walk with his 2-year-old Yorkshire terrier, Bella.
About 10 other sites away from the riverfront have sat empty for months, Harris said.
Bob Samples, who runs the park, said it was full of campers until last summer, when Aiken County officials told him it was in violation of county ordinances and had to be shut down.
Many of the campers, mostly itinerant construction workers, moved while Samples worked to bring the park back into compliance.
Harris said three spots along the river, including his, were “grandfathered in.”
Stephen Strohminger, the director of Aiken County Planning and Development, said the ordinance regulating recreational vehicle parks has been on the books since 2006. It required a minimum of five acres for such businesses along with other stipulations that Samples’ park didn’t meet.
“We had a phone call about it and we didn’t have any permits for it,” Strohminger said. “We told him, you’ve got to bring it in to compliance.”
Since that time, a revised ordinance has been passed that could allow campers to come back. Samples said he lobbied for the changes, which now require only a two-acre minimum, increased the number of trailers from 10 to 12 per acre and decreased setbacks from property lines.
The revised ordinance was adopted by the Aiken County Council on Nov. 13. Samples said he just has to get clearance from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control for his well and sewage plans.
“We’ll see if I can afford to do what they want me to do,” he said.
Strohminger said as soon as the DHEC permits have been approved, his department can finish examining and approving the development plans on file with the county.
The property sits on a small section of riverfront that isn’t within North Augusta city limits, so it isn’t subject to city ordinances, which prohibit camping trailers. Another parcel on the other side of the railroad tracks is within city limits.
Samples said no campers are allowed on that side of the tracks, but it is still being used. Neighbors said a local man named John Johnson has built a deck and a new boat dock connected to that parcel, which can only be accessed by driving under the train trestle.
“I helped him build that deck,” Harris said.
Johnson wasn’t around the camp Wednesday, but the Mary Louise II, his more than 30-foot yacht, was tied to the dock below the deck.
Scott Sterling, North Augusta’s director of planning and economic development, said the dock was a rebuild of another structure that had fallen apart and that all the proper permits had been obtained.
Samples, who stays on his boat docked below the RV park, said he’s been living on the river for almost 30 years. The 71-year-old hopes he can keep the park running, but he said it has been a struggle. He’s sure those who want to redevelop the riverfront are not interested in having a campground in the middle of their upscale developments.
“I think they want to squeeze me out,” he said.
Steve Donohue, the president of the River Club Homeowners Association, said he isn’t aware of any ill will toward the RV park.
“As far as I know I’ve never had a complaint or an issue with it,” he said. “I don’t know of any reports of crime either.”
He said as long as there is a buffer of trees at the end of Shoreline Drive, it shouldn’t be a problem for his neighbors.
Patrick Murphy, the maintenance superintendent at the River Golf Club, said as far as he is concerned, having people at the RV park is a benefit. The club’s maintenance building is off the same road that leads to the park. Murphy said having people living there helps keep sketchy characters looking for a secluded area away.
“They’ve really cleaned it up and made it nicer over there,” he said.