This past Saturday I participated in the 13th Annual Saluda River Rally. This event is sponsored by Anderson County and proceeds go to support Special Olympics. This was the first time I’d taken part in the rally. Usually I’m either out in Washington or have another paddling event planning. I was glad things worked out this year. It was an absolute blast and I got a chance to explore a different stretch of the Saluda River.
The rally starts at the Dolly Cooper Park in Anderson County near Powdersville. There were two options for paddling: a nine mile stretch from Dolly Cooper down to Piedmont, or you could portage around the Piedmont Dam and continue on down to the Timmerman Landing in Pelzer for a fifteen mile run. Tickets were the same price for both and included a t-shirt and shuttle service. That turned out to be a level of service above and beyond anything I expected.
I opted for the nine-mile trip. I figured since this was my first time I’d do the shorter one and see what this event was all about. I also decided to get an early start. I wanted to beat heat and potential crowds. The rally officially started at 8:00 am but I got there a bit early. Booths were already set up and there were tents and campers all along the river.
I pulled up in front of the tents with my trailer and while I was checking in and getting my t-shirt, a couple of volunteers were already untying my boat and getting it ready. They moved the boat on over out of the way and I tossed what gear I needed into it, then pulled up the hill to park.
The volunteers were doing this for everyone so that there would be a smooth transfer and that the unloading area could clear out quickly. It was very efficient. They even had coolers of water for anyone who had forgotten to bring a bottle.
I got my cameras and gear sorted and two more volunteers appeared to move my boat over to the ADA launch. They got me settled into my boat, then I was off.
I pretty much had the river to myself. I’ve often found that in these large rallies I’m more on my own that when I go out on trips my friends. The crowds had not yet gathered and those on the river weren’t particularly loquacious. It was OK, though. The weather was perfect and river conditions were ideal.
The first landmark is the old Dunham Bridge. This is an old steel girder bridge that was once the main road from Greenville to Anderson. The original bridge was built in the mid 1800s but was washed away several times in storms and rebuilt. Here is a sampling of articles about the bridge
Just upstream from the old steel bridge are the abutments for one of these previous bridges.
The old steel bridge itself has long been closed to vehicular traffic. The 2005 Master Plan for Dolly Cooper Park includes a proposal to tie the bridge into the park’s walkways, but that hasn’t happened yet.
Just below this is the new Dunham Bridge on Highway 81. I would be passing under LOTS of bridges on this particular trip.
The river continued with a quick current for a mile or so, with occasional ripples and rocks to make things interesting. The banks were wooded and the setting was quite rural.
The river goes around a deep bend, then about mile past Highway 81 you come to the only significant shoals on this section. I held back and watched to fairly experienced paddlers negotiate the rapids, now running at about Class II because of water levels. Following them I made it through with no problems, but with enough excitement to get my heart pumping. The standing waves splashed into my boat with a nice cooling effect.
After the shoals the river smoothed out, but the current kept things moving. The scenery was consistent for the next mile or so, with little development along the banks. It was peaceful and I could just float along if I wanted. It reminded me a bit of the Edisto, and I can see this been a great section for beginning paddlers.
About a mile from the shoals I came upon the I-85 bridges. Actually, I heard the traffic long before I got to the bridge. There are actually two bridges. River Road crosses upstream from the main interstate bridge.
More rural scenery, then the river comes to the Highway 153 bridge. This bridge was unusual in that it had a huge amount of vegetation, probably wisteria, hanging from the side.
The next segment of the river is the longest on this section before you reach a bridge. However, development along the banks picks up significantly. There are housing developments on either bank. Some of these had very large homes and in some cases there were nice walking paths along the river, which was still tranquil.
After awhile the river went back to its rural nature and the current began to taper off a bit. This is where I started to encounter more fellow paddlers. Many were content to just float along, but I was keeping a steady paddle rhythm. I caught up with and passed several kayaks. With a few I lingered long enough to chat, usually while I was changing batteries in my GoPro.
As I got closer to the town of Piedmont there were more farms along the banks. I even encountered a herd of cows.
Soon I was in sight of the Piedmont bridge. The river was more lake-like as it backed up behind the Piedmont Dam. At the confluence of Big Creek and the Saluda there several fishermen taking advantage of the nice weather. I had launched here some years ago the one and only other time I had paddled this location.
Just past the bridge the Rally had set up another ADA access at Saluda River Ramblers. This would be our take-out. Normally this is a private access without the ADA ramp.
As much as I appreciated the easy take-out, I appreciated the service even more. The volunteers helped me out of my boat then wouldn’t even let me help carry my own boat up the ramp. They did this with everyone who landed. Again, this was just as much to facilitate efficiency as to be nice to those of us who were participating.
There was a seating area set up under canopies and a food truck serving tacos. From here those going on down to Pelzer would portage around the dam. As for me, this was the end of my trip. There were several small buses and trucks with trailers. Once enough people landed the boats were loaded into the trailers and the paddlers were shuttled on the buses back up to the Dolly Cooper Park.
This was listed as a nine mile trip. According to my GPS it was closer to ten miles.
Here’s the time lapse video from the GoPro:
Here’s another video summary of the event from the Anderson Observer. I make a brief appearance at 11:17.
It was a great day on the river, and I can say enough about the organizers and how smoothly everything went. I hope they raised lots of many for Special Olympics.