One of the Upstate region’s biggest natural attractions has reopened more than seven months after suffering wildfire damage.
The viewing area for Whitewater Falls reopened at noon Friday. The only platform to view South Carolina’s largest waterfall closed in November after a fire destroyed much of a staircase accessing it. Since there is no trail directly to the 200-foot upper waterfall, visitors are only able to see the falls from that point.
Work finished ahead of schedule and under budget, according to U.S. Forest Service officials. The agency had initially expected the trail to be closed for nearly a year and cost $250,000 to rebuild. But crews were able to finish in time for the July 4th weekend.
“The final estimate for the staircase here came in at $89,000 and we were able to get this work down for $85,000,” spokeswoman Cathy Dowd said.
The Federal Highways Administration funded the reconstruction of the project. The agency offers grants to tourism-related projects which could have an economic impact.
Whitewater Falls is located at the North Carolina-South Carolina border roughly ten miles north of Salem in Oconee County. The parking area and observation point are located in North Carolina and access Upper Whitewater Falls, but visitors can also hike the Foothills Trail to eventually reach Lower Whitewater Falls in South Carolina.
Dowd said the falls get lots of visitors during the summer holiday. She expects a lot of people to visit the first weekend it reopens.
“We will probably get maybe even like 2,000 visitors, just over this weekend alone,” Dowd said. “Maybe even more than that.” Whitewater Falls draws over 80,000 people annually, she said
She added it will take three more weeks to fix the Foothills Trails which stretches across the Whitewater river into South Carolina.