It’s widely considered to be the Earth’s most precious resource.
But organizations in Spartanburg believe water will be a catalyst for improving the health and wellness of the city’s 38,000 residents.
Spartanburg Water on Friday, June 30, unveiled a new bottle refilling station on the Mary Black Foundation Rail Trial that ties into its Choose Tap program.
The utility, which serves more than 180,000 customers in Spartanburg, Greenville, Union, and Cherokee counties, introduced the program in 2016 as its “innovative response” to the community’s Way to Wellville health challenge.
Choose Tap focuses on raising awareness about the health, financial, and environmental benefits of drinking tap instead of bottled water.
“We are thrilled to be a part of Way to Wellville,” said John Montgomery, chairman of the Commission of Public Works for the City of Spartanburg. “Having these bottle stations available will certainly be a great way to improve health and wellness. The new [rail trail] park is a great addition to the community and we are very excited to see this project become a reality.”
In August 2014, Spartanburg was chosen as one of five communities to participate in the Way to Wellville challenge by the Health Initiative Coordinating Council, or HICCup, a nonprofit organization founded by investor Esther Dyson.
The challenge is a national initiative that aims to measure and improve an area’s health.
Mary Black Foundation, a private organization that was created to improve the health and wellness of people living in Spartanburg County, is leading the 10-year effort.
The foundation is focused on five areas, including access to care for the uninsured, community pride, health for the insured, kindergarten readiness, and obesity prevention.
“We’ve picked five focus areas and are looking for innovative and creative ways to move the needle as quickly as possible,” said Kathy Dunleavy, president and CEO of the Mary Black Foundation. “We’re looking at a variety of new initiatives. … If we can pull them off, we’ll be on the cutting edge.”
Spartanburg Water installed the first bottle refill station as part of the Choose Tap program in April 2016 at Morgan Square in downtown Spartanburg.
That station was funded by the utility, which has more than 250 employees, and produces an average of 25 million gallons of drinking water each day.
The rail trial station at 353 Forest Ave. near Case Brothers was funded with $5,000 of a $15,000 gift from the foundation, Dunleavy said.
Plans are in the works for two more stations in the city, she said. The sites will be chosen at a later date.
The rail trail park, which will be called the Rail Yard, will sit on seven acres along the 1.9-mile trail along a former Norfolk Southern railroad corridor.
The bottle refilling station is next to a pavilion that has been constructed on the site that once housed a service station for the city’s trolley line.
Other amenities planned for the park include a mountain biking course, an NFL Play 60 obstacle course, an amphitheater, open-air tree houses, and a water misting station, and an exercise pad, the city said.
The park is sponsored by Way to Wellville, the Mary Black Foundation, Partners for Active Living, the city of Spartanburg, and the Group of 100, a group of private citizens dedicated to beautifying Spartanburg.
Laura Ringo, executive director of Partners for Active Living, said the trail’s usage has increased from about 25,000 visitors in 2009 to an anticipated 130,000 visitors in 2017.
She said she believes the bottling station at the park will see significant use.
Ringo said visitors will soon see signage that provides more information about the rail trails position as the dividing line between the Pacolet and Tyger River watersheds in Spartanburg County.
“When we think about health and wellness, especially where obesity prevention is concerned, we can start every initiative in the world,” Ringo said. “But if our citizens don’t have access, then it’s all for naught.”
Spartanburg Water spokesman Chad Lawson said the utility has received nearly 8,000 pledges from members of the community, who said they plan to drink tap water instead of sugary sodas and drinks.
“It has been interesting to see how receptive people in Spartanburg have been to this campaign,” Lawson said. “This is a visible reminder of Way to Wellville and the Choose Tap program.”
Ringo said a $22 million plan to connect 12 miles of existing trails and add 21 miles of new trails in Spartanburg County is continuing to move forward.
For more information, visit choosetapwater.org.