One of the main reasons is because of all the convenient parking surrounding the headgates.
Last week, the Augusta Commission unanimously approved a plan to develop a public parking area at the end of Riverlook Drive.
“Right now, Riverlook Drive dead ends into the utility department’s property across from the water pumping station,” said Dayton Sherrouse, executive director of the Augusta Canal Authority. “There is a chain-link fence across there now and it is locked. Only the utilities department uses it to access the pumping station.”
A few years ago, the city purchased a piece of property with a home on the lot across from the pumping station because a raw water line kept breaking, Sherrouse explained.
“It kept damaging the house, so it was easier to purchase the property and demolish the home rather than continuing to pay for the damages on the house,” he said.
When that property was cleared and became available, the Augusta Canal Authority thought it would be a perfect location for additional parking to access the upper end of the canal.
“The problem we have up there in that area is there is no easy access to the towpath on the canal,” Sherrouse said. “Right now, the access is from Eisenhower Drive and people have to go between two overhead waterlines that pumps raw water from the canal to the treatment plant at Highland Avenue.”
Sherrouse said the Augusta Canal Authority can’t widen the bridge that crosses the canal in that area because of those two overhead waterlines.
Along with the plans for additional parking, the canal authority has also proposed landscaping the area and installing a wrought iron fence.
“We met with residents who are affected by this and we had two public hearings,” Sherrouse said, adding most of the nearby residents were thrilled about the planned improvements. “We’ve kind of gone overboard trying to protect the residents who are there and I think, with the improvements we are going to make, this will be a very nice entrance. Not only for the water pumping station, but for anyone who is using the upper end of the canal for recreation purposes.”
Augusta Commissioner Donnie Smith represents District 7, including the area surrounding Eisenhower Drive. His only concern was whether the canal authority planned to include lighting at the parking lot.
“There will be no lighting on the parking lot,” Sherrouse said. “The reason we have decided against that is there will be a gate into the parking lot and we don’t want people there at night. The park closes after dark, so we thought if we put lighting up there, that is going to attract people to come in after dark.”
Smith said he was relieved that the canal authority had decided against the lighting because he feared it may attract unwanted activity to the parking lot at night.
“We don’t want that,” he said.
Sherrouse said that the canal authority met with the utilities department regarding the manning of the gate that will be installed along Riverlook Drive.
“Since the utilities department is manned 24 hours a day over there at the pumping station, they have agreed to unlock the gate in the morning and lock it back at night, just like they used to do on Sibley Street when that was opened near Sibley Mill,” Sherrouse said. “We will be the back up for them.”
Along with the new gate, Sherrouse said the canal authority plans to plant a staggered double row of leland cypresses or cryptomeria japonicas, combined with a staggered double row of magnolias.
“It should be a very nice improvement at the upper end of the canal,” he said.