GREENVILLE — Conestee Nature Preserve is planning to expand its offerings of interactive activities with the addition of several miles of mountain biking trails and a 2-acre natural playscape designed to encourage children to explore the outdoors.
Michael Corley, executive director of the 400-acre preserve in southern Greenville, said biking has been prohibited on Conestee’s 13 acres of trails to create a safer environment for walkers, runners and bird watchers who use the paths. But since moving into the leadership role in 2021, Corley said he has looked for a way to make the preserve accessible to mountain bikers without impacting other visitors.
“We are hoping to be a place where people can come and enjoy mountain biking after work, where beginners can come and learn how to mountain bike, where youth biking groups can compete and practice,” he said. “It’s such an important group of outdoor constituents.”
To that end, the preserves staff has identified a little used area called Breazeale Farm where they plan to create the bike paths. Corley said the bike course offers scenic views and keeps separation between bikers and walkers.
“We’ve got a section of the preserve that’s disconnected from the main body of the preserve,” he said. “In my opinion, it’s one of the most attractive places on our property. It’s by Brushy Creek and the Reedy River, it’s got this gorgeous old forest and it’s very lightly used.”
The nonprofit that operates Conestee is in the process of raising the estimated $93,000 cost of the project, and Corley said a completion date hinges on how quickly the funds can be raised. Work will likely begin this summer.
Volunteers and staff will be responsible for construction of most of the trails themselves, but Corley said a parking space in the area will need to be updated and expanded to make it more accessible.
The planned playscape will go closer to the edge of the preserve, near the baseball fields.
“We picked the space very strategically so that it would be an enjoyable experience but not one that interferes with what other folks are trying to do,” Corley said.
Unlike a traditional playground, the playscape will be made up entirely of natural elements gathered from the preserve or surrounding area and will blend in with the natural setting. It will include features such as an artificial waterway that kids can play in safely, logs and sticks for building forts or bridges, and possibly a mud pit.
The goal, Corley said, is to offer children a safe place to play that allows them to explore and experience the outdoors.
“That unstructured, outdoor exploration and play that used to be just an understood component of childhood development is becoming more and more rare,” he said. “The purpose of the playscape is to recreate that experience and even enhance it.”
Conestee recently hired the Raleigh-based Natural Learning Institute to design the playscape.
The total estimated cost of the playscape project comes in at about $200,000, Corley said, and work is expected to begin late this year.
Follow Conor Hughes on Twitter at @ConorJHughes.