Committee seeks ways to save bay

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AIKEN --- Members of Aiken's environmental committee want to preserve the Carolina Bay Nature Reserve and provide residents with opportunities to learn about the natural wetland.

"Our environmental committee has looked at a plan to build an observation classroom out there," said Tim Coakley, the city's assistant director of public works.

Carolina bays, shallow oval basins found along the Atlantic Coastal Plain, tend to collect water and are often home to plants and animals not found in the surrounding area. The Aiken Carolina bay is an ecological feature surrounded by streets and residential developments, across from the Virginia Acres Park on Whiskey Road.

Preserving the bay fits in with the city's continuing efforts to preserve open space.

"We want to preserve as much of that as we can for the enjoyment of our residents," Mr. Coakley said. The bay "is kind of a neat feature that every city doesn't have."

The environmental committee has suggested building a two-facility education complex adjacent to the bay, equipped to support environmental education for grades K-12. According to the proposal, the first phase of the project would be construction of an outdoor classroom large enough for 45 pupils. It would be a cost-effective way to determine whether teachers would use the bay.

The proposal says that the classroom would be "a positive amenity to the bay and will provide an environmentally friendly site for K-12 classes, nature-based outreach programs and visitors."

The outdoor classroom would have a deck leading to a covered classroom with stadium seating.

If response to the first phase is positive, the committee suggests moving to the second phase -- construction of an environmental education center adjacent to the bay.

It would provide a large open classroom for lectures, a separate laboratory space for processing environmental samples, and storage and office space.

Mr. Coakley said the complex would be similar to the educational facilities at the Phinizy Swamp Nature Park.

"It's a great outreach program for the city to get more people interested in using that bay, and it's an opportunity for school-age children to have out-of-classroom learning experience," he explained.

According to the committee's proposal, the project would cost about $380,000 -- $80,000 for the outdoor classroom and $300,000 for the education center. Grants from state and federal agencies might require 25 percent to 50 percent in matching funds.

Although the committee has drawn up the proposal, the city council has not reviewed it or given its approval to move forward, Mr. Coakley said.

"It's a real preliminary project right now," he said.

Reach Michelle Guffey at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or michelle.guffey@augustachronicle.com

WHAT IS A CAROLINA BAY?

Not a bay in the usual sense, Carolina bays are oval or roughly circular depressions that are common in the lower elevations of the Carolinas. Their origins are uncertain; meteorite impacts and a variety of geological phenomena have been suggested. They collect water and often develop communities of plants and animals that are not typical of the surrounding area.

Source: City of Aiken


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