Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Last week, Sheryl, Frances and I with the Keep Williamsburg Beautiful Committee took a road trip to Conway to observe their tree program since Kingstree is working towards becoming a Tree City. The Tree City USA Program strives to protect trees in a community, and Conway has been a Tree City for 27 consecutive years. During our visit the three of us were very impressed with the historic downtown area of Conway as we toured the community and as we saw it through the eyes of a visitor.
Conway has a history of protecting its trees as far back as the 1880's and few communities can boast that roads were built around its prominent trees as in Conway. In addition the innovative town promotes a tour of its oldest and largest live oak trees. The town began mapping and inventorying the 217 live oaks with a trunk circumference exceeding 7 feet in1975. As an update to the program, new measurements were taken in 1997 of the original remaining trees. The trees have names such as the Hanging Oak, the Wade Hampton Oak, and the Alligator Oak. It is a delightful way for the local residents to recognize what they call their oldest citizens; their trees. While Sheryl, Frances, and I looked at the trees and tried to identify the alligator in the Alligator Tree, we noticed other details about downtown Conway which is also called the Historic River City.
While strolling down Main Street we counted one vacant building. To be honest, there were some vacant buildings on other streets, but Main Street looked great. The sidewalks were clean, the planters were well cared for, and lots of people were shopping and eating downtown. Basically, Conway looks like a town that is loved by its citizens. Trying to document our trip, we took pictures of vacant lots that had been turned into picnic areas, and several alleys that had been made into attractive walk ways. Going down one alley where several businesses were located, we observed that even though there were no plants, the area was clean and well kept. Traveling from block to block we realized there was no litter. Sheryl did note an empty cigarette pack in one planter, but that was the most litter we saw downtown. All of the sidewalks and streets were clean and neat. While downtown, we visited a Christmas shop, a kitchen shop with a good wine selection, a Gullah Shop, and a delightful gift store that featured 50 local artists. The custodian at the Methodist Church saw us walking around and invited us into the old chapel and allowed us to ring the church bell. He was very helpful and it was apparent that the man was proud of his town and its heritage. The friendly staff at the Visitor's Center enthusiastically shared information about Conway's Downtown Alive Program and the many events that are promoted during the year. Downtown Alive was founded in 1986 by a group of local citizens who were concerned about the economic health of downtown Conway. It is a private, non profit organization that is made up of a board and staff. The Calendar of Events for Downtown promotes at least 15 events in their brochure. In addition there are separate Christmas events planned. Later when I asked about participation of the many downtown events, a chamber representative responded that the people in Conway take part in everything.
Following an enjoyable lunch at a unique restaurant, we strolled along Conway's beautiful River Walk located along the Waccamaw River. The area is well designed, perfectly maintained, and litter free. Many local residents and families were enjoying the warm weather on Tuesday and everyone was extremely friendly. The River Walk area has many planned events such as River Fest, Arbor Day Program, Fall Festivals, Easter Egg Hunts, and movies in the park just to name a few. The area could not be more beautiful, or more valuable to the city of Conway. The River Walk is a treasure and more importantly there were no signs of neglect, vandalism, or abuse.
Downtown Kingstree has its own treasurers such as the beautiful Black River, majestic oak trees, the Robert Mills Court House, the Historic Depot, Welch Park, and the Museum. We have gift and clothing shops, specialty stores, restaurants, and successful businesses. The major difference however in the two communities might be that our community has less citizen involvement in positive local events, and more citizen participation in littering and abuse of public or private property. Some might even find it hard to say that our downtown looks like it’s loved by its citizens. However, Pastor Rick Warren says: “We are products of our past, but we do not have to be prisoners of it.” A new year is upon us and it might just be the perfect time for downtown to develop and grow. If we work hard enough, who knows what Kingstree might look like this time next year through the eyes of a visitor?