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South is up in Upcountry South Carolina

The northwestern corner of South Carolina, wedged in between North Carolina and Georgia, is famous for its forested mountains, wild rivers and numerous waterfalls. However, one of the area’s top waterfalls is in the middle of the region’s largest city.

“We have a 60-foot waterfall,” said Diane Wilson, director of information services for the Greenville Convention and Visitors Bureau. “I can look right out at it from our office.”

A bridge with a view
For years a highway bridge obscured the falls. In 2004, the highway bridge was removed, and a distinctive curved pedestrian bridge was built to provide great unobstructed views of the Reedy River Falls and the new landscaped public gardens that are part of a $13.4 million revitalization of Falls Park on the Reedy. The 355-foot-long, 12-foot-wide bridge has helped spur a boom in downtown development.

“The development of Liberty Bridge and Falls Park has put us in the national spotlight,” said Wilson. “With everything that has happened here since the opening of the park and bridge, we have definitely become an emerging leisure destination.”

Greenville, the commercial hub of the Upcountry South Carolina region and the third-largest city in South Carolina, has seen a wealth of downtown development, with several new restaurants and shops opening within walking distance of museums and attractions, several of which are concentrated in a parklike area known as Heritage Green.

“Heritage Green has come into its own in the last few years with the opening of the Upcountry History Museum; the extension of the Bob Jones museum; and one of the largest children’s museums in the Southeast, which opened last September,” said Wilson.

The downtown cultural enclave also includes the Greenville County Museum of Art, the Greenville Little Theatre and the Greenville Public Library.

The Greenville County Museum of Art is famous for its collection of Southern art from the 1700s to the present and its collection of 35 Andrew Wyeth paintings, which covers every period of his career. The museum also has a strong collection of contemporary art with work by Josef Albers, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Romare Bearden and Jacob Lawrence among others.

The extension of the Museum and Gallery at Bob Jones University has made more of the museum’s world-renowned collection of religious art available to the public. The collection, also housed on the university campus, includes more than 400 paintings by the Old Masters, such as Rubens, Rembrandt, Tintoretto and van Dyke, along with period furniture, sculpture, tapestries and porcelains.

Another boom for local development has been the 4-year-old ballpark of the Greenville Drive, a Class A farm team of the Boston Red Sox.

“It looks like Fenway Park, with the Green Monster in left,” said Tim Todd, executive director of the Upcountry Carolina Association.

The West End Market, a mixed-use project with restaurants, shops, offices and condos, has developed around the park in restored and new buildings.

“The West End area is the place to be now,” said Todd.

Wilson noted that the new developments are not restricted to Greenville, and tour operators should consider the Upcountry area as a stopover on trips to Myrtle Beach.

“We have so much to offer now, it’s an opportunity for tour operators to offer their groups something new on the way to the beach,” she said. “Depending on what they are looking for, they could do a culinary experience or BMW driving, or stop over and do a zip line for a day before lying on the beach. We would be a big hit.”

Experience the joy
One activity that could be offered group members as an individual option is the new driving experience at the BMW plant near Spartanburg, where you get a tour of the plant and its museum and a two-hour driving program on the company’s test track.

“You really get a feel for the vehicle,” said Max Metcalf, manager of media and community affairs for BMW.

The experience involves driving a BMW X5 sport utility — with instructions by radio — on various road tests, including off road and through water.

BMW’s free Zentrum visitors center is a popular group stop. “It’s a crescent-shaped building that faces I-85 in front of the plant,” said Metcalf. “We have testaments to the classic cars and the history of the company.”

The museum exhibits include cars from the 1950s, classic motorcycles, racecars and a Z3 roadster used in a James Bond movie.  A 15-minute virtual factory tour, a gift shop and a cafe are also available.

“We have displays on the X5 and the hybrid X6. We are the only plant that makes them,” said Metcalf. “We are this global manufacturer located here in South Carolina.”

Another new experience in Upcountry South Carolina provides thrills above the ground. Chattooga Ridge Canopy Tours opened in March in Long Creek as the first zip line tour in the area.

The three-hour experience, which takes participants for more than a half-mile in the air, includes four bridges and four crossings of Academy Lake.

“You are 30 to 50 feet off the ground and zip from one tree to another, but it’s not as strenuous as it may sound,” said Todd.

For a more sedate experience, groups can stop by the South Carolina Botanical Garden, adjacent to John C. Calhoun’s 19th-century Fort Hill estate on the Clemson University campus.

The 295-acre garden has natural landscapes with several miles of streams and nature trails, a 70-acre arboretum and several display gardens, including an official American Hosta Society display garden. There are more than 400 varieties of camellias; and extensive collections of hollies, hydrangeas, magnolias and native plants; and unusual nature-based sculptures.

“They have to incorporate living plant material,” said a garden spokesman. “They are meant to deteriorate; that is why we call them sculpture sites, not by the name of the sculpture.”

The garden is also the location of the Bob Campbell Geology Museum, with a large collection of gems, minerals and fossils.

Historical attractions

In addition to its natural resources, Upcountry South Carolina is also rich in history, dating to pre-Revolutionary War times. A major battle of the Revolution was fought in northern South Carolina at Cowpens, so named for the pasture area where it took place. Cowpens National Battlefield now preserves the site as part of the National Park System.

The town of Pendleton was founded in 1790 as the seat of government for the Old Pendleton District, which encompasses present-day Anderson, Oconee and Pickens counties. The entire town, with more than 50 historic 18th- and 19th-century structures, many surrounding its village green, is on the National Register of Historic Places.

John Noland, the curator of the Museum and Gallery at Bob Jones University, provides customized tours of Greenville and the region through his Greenville History Tours.

“He will do any kind of tour in the region you want,” said Wilson.

And then there are those waterfalls. “We have tons of waterfalls around here,” said Susan Gray, a local photographer who leads tours of the falls through her company, Carolina Waterfall Tours.
“Some require hiking, and some are right off the road. You can park and walk 40 to 100 feet, and you are there. There are lots of beautiful waterfalls.”

The falls have obvious names, such as Upper Whitewater Falls, Lower Whitewater Falls, Rainbow Falls and Twin Falls, and more exotic names, such as Issaqueena Falls. “It falls about 100 feet and is named after an Indian maiden,” said Gray.

And then there are the three waterfalls that may not have names. “I don’t know if they have names; they are not on my maps,” she said. “One is right by the road, another is about 100 feet behind it and higher, and then you walk about a quarter-mile to get to see the third waterfall.

“One flows into a pool of water about 12 to 18 inches deep. There is a PVC pipe, and the water is so fresh [that] local people collect it in jugs.

“Besides the beautiful waterfalls and scenery, there are plants native to the area that can be seen along the trails and surrounding the waterfalls.”

Gray customizes her tours, provides bottled water and can arrange for box lunches.

“I ask what their specific needs are, what are they wanting to see and how many are unable to climb and hike,” she said. “I just want them to have a good time.”

Researching Your Trip:

Upcountry Carolina Association

Greenville Convention and Visitors Bureau