Earth Day Interview with Anne Close
Written by Elizabeth Bowers, Communications & Guest Services Director
Anne Close sits casually in a chair in the office of the White Homestead. A headphone set lays around her neck in anticipation of a brisk walk around the grounds of the Big House, as the historic Homestead is affectionately known. At 93, she is constantly on the go, surrounded by people and loved ones. She’s headed to the beach with family for Easter, and she will undoubtedly spend plenty of afternoons and weekends this spring watching great-grands play soccer, or baseball, or take a riding lesson at the Greenway’s horse barn. That’s when she’s not traveling. She’s a consummate traveler, having gone places and accomplished things that many of us only read about. In fact, that is partly my impetus for wanting to interview her this day.
The Greenway is getting ready to reach an important milestone; for the 25th time since its opening in 1995, the Anne Springs Close Greenway will welcome the community for an Earth Day Celebration. No one appreciates the significance of this anniversary more than Ms. Close. She is passionate about many things, but the Greenway and what it brings to this community rank high on her own list of personal accomplishments.
I have heard many stories about the Greenway’s first few years and its inaugural Earth Day. And as I sat with Ms. Close as she recounted new stories that I’d never heard before, I realized again, as I often do at a job like mine, how special the Greenway is. How progressive and forward-thinking Anne Close was for having a dream as big as the Greenway. She has always said, then and now, that she only set out to save a few trees. But how incredible that she was able to ensure that this special place is here forever. It will be her family’s greatest legacy.
Below is an account of our recent conversation about the Greenway’s ‘opening day’ and those first few years:
Q: Tell me about the first Earth Day Celebration.
A: Thousands of people came. It was at the Nature Center that first year and we planted a tree in honor of John Spratt (who was a special guest that day.) Earth Day was on a Saturday that year and we had a big crowd, far more than we expected. Sig Huitt [Carolina PR] did publicity and I think he over did it, because we had more people than we could handle. We had one Pepsi truck and it turned kind of hot and we didn’t have nearly enough water!
Q: You all did an opening ceremony. What was that like?
A: We had an opening ceremony and Brenda Little, who taught music at Fort Mill at that time, brought the 1st grade and they sang “All Things Bright and Beautiful.” I told them that when they were as old as I was or when they were grandparents they could bring their children to the Greenway and see that newly planted tree, that it would be here forever.
Q: What else did you all do that day?
A: Chuck Flink, Pat Newman and I led a walk around the lake; we already had the trail around Lake Haigler. A large crowd followed us. We had activities along the trail and I remember Theresa Higgins and her son, Kent, who was a little boy at the time; they had a box full of worms and Kent would show people the worms and tell them how important they were to ecology. We also had a walk down to the swinging bridge. The Dairy Barn was not yet renovated, but the swinging bridge was there and beyond it we had a little booth setup with handmade, 100-year old toys that were just fascinating. There were also some [reenactment] soldiers that were there to interpret the history [of the Nation Ford Road.]
Q: Every Earth Day, you tried to highlight something new on the Greenway. Tell me about those first few projects.
A: By the next year we had restored the Dairy Barn. For about 10 years we were able to highlight a new project or amenity for the Greenway. Some others included the paved handicap loop, the Grist Mill and also the Graham Cabin. I remember Laura Long was a participant in our therapeutic riding group and she sang for us the same day we walked that new paved trail.
Q: What was your vision for the event?
A: Every year it was our gift to the community and every year Earth Day would be free. And I hope that is in stone somewhere.
Q: I recently read the first issue of the Greenway Guide and of course you were featured in it. One of the things you talked about was that you had a lifelong desire to travel the Marco Polo Silk Route. Did you ever end up doing that?
A: Well no, we had tickets to Afghanistan when 9/11 happened, so we didn’t do it. But I have been on the Karakoram Highway, which is part of it. I also passed from China into Kyrgyzstan. But that was 2001 when we were going, and in the end we cancelled the trip.
Q: I know Fort Mill has changed a lot. But what feels the same? At least about the Greenway?
A: If you get a mile away from the Nature Center or the Dairy Barn, it still feels like it used to. You have to get about a mile away from the center of activity. But you can still get away, that part hasn’t changed. If you walk Blue Star or Muscadine, there are still many of those trails that you won’t see anybody. Now around the lake it’s pretty busy, which is good.
Q: What are your favorite trails?
A: I like the Peach Stand on 21 Bypass to Lake Haigler, I like that one a lot. I like the first one we did which would be from the Complex to the Field Trial Barn. In fact, we hiked that in 1990 when we first announced our plans for the Greenway.
Q: So it took about 5 years to recover from Hugo and open?
A: Well, Hugo was the fall before we announced the plans for the Greenway. It took two years to clean up and three years to get ready.
Q: Talk about how the Greenway was built and our trail system.
A: After Hugo, our whole trail system was destroyed. It was such a horrible mess, and we just had to get from point A to point B! And some of those trails have had a lot of erosion over the years, and Josh (our Natural Resources Director) has replaced almost all of them; he’s still working on it and will continue to. But the trails he does, don’t erode. They are professionally done and they are stable, and most of the bad spots are gone. Now they are all graded properly, but we didn’t know how to do that. And, I’ve always been interested in the horse operation. That was here long before there was a Greenway. We had horse trails. And I think having horses on the Greenway will always be part of it.
Q: I hope the Greenway is still doing the Earth Day Celebration in 25 years. What do you think will still be the same?
A: Horse rides I think we will always do. I hope the hike around the lake will still be popular. We’ve always offered hikes from various parts of the Greenway, the Grist Mill, the Complex.
Q: What do you think might change about the Greenway in the next 25 years?
A: Well it will only be a more significant green space in this region as time moves on. I believe we have a good Board [of Managers], and as long as we have conservation-minded people on our board I think they will look after it well. I have always said that if we get the kids out here when they are little, which I think we’re doing a good job with all of the programs at the Adventure Center, when they grow up they will want to protect it; I hope our future is in the young people who are using it now and that when they grow up they will have the same passion for conservation. I’m also very pleased with the GAP Program (Greenway Assistance Program) making the Greenway more accessible to more children. Preserve the resource and make it accessible. Any new project should be put through a tight screen to make sure it really fits our mission and whether it is necessary.
Q: Talk about the things you don’t think we will ever do on the Greenway.
A: For many years we were talking a lot about a multipurpose trail, but we already have a multipurpose trail [at the Dairy Barn]! There is an easy way to extend that trail but other than that, I have fought against more paved space out here.
Q: What do you think about the Piedmont prairie restoration work that is going on near the Field Trial Barn?
A: Well I can’t see it really, but the people I’ve talked with are very impressed with it. I also really like the Community Garden. Anything to get people outdoors.
Q: Where was the first swinging bridge built on the property?
A: The first bridge we built is down in the woods below the Field Trial Barn. We did that one down there where no one could see it so in case it didn’t work, nobody would know! A gentleman from the Fort Mill Telephone Co (now Comporium) helped the Greenway crew install the polls and do the wire.
Q: How do you think Leroy Springs today is similar to its original mission from the 1950’s?
A: The genesis of it really was the [Springs] Mills. We hired an Athletic Director (Bob Reid) to run the swimming pools, golf courses and competitive sports teams that provided recreation to the mill people, which was the whole community at the time. Then when Springs Industries went public, they had to separate everything out that wasn’t manufacturing cotton; the farm, the athletic department, had to be totally separate and that’s when Leroy Springs (and Springs Farm) started. For many years they had four directors in Lancaster, Chester, Kershaw and Fort Mill. Then we eventually added one at Springmaid Beach and in the 80’s at Springmaid Mountain.
Q: What are some of the other programs of the past that represent the Leroy Springs history?
A: The swimming teams were hugely popular in their day. I remember we opened Fort Mill’s first swimming pool in 1953 over by Fort Mill Golf and that was sort of the beginning of Leroy Springs. It was a big deal in Fort Mill to have a swimming pool! Springs Park was also one of the biggest components of Leroy Springs until ’89 when Hugo hit. There was always a big grand opening each year at the park and stars like Minnie Pearl would come and perform. In those days we didn’t have Carowinds or anything like it. As soon as the war ended in ‘45, my father started investing in recreation opportunities for mill workers, including Springmaid Beach. [The Beach] and Springs Park were integral parts of Leroy Springs at the time. Now it has turned into the Greenway, the (Springs) golf courses, and Springmaid Mountain (1985).
Q: Talk about the future of the Greenway.
A: There was a time five or six years ago before we did the capital campaign, when financial questions rose to the top. But I think now with the creation of the endowment and the support of the Friends [of the Greenway] we are in a substantially improved position and that no longer has to be our first priority. And I think conserving the resource and making it accessible, without over running it, is what we need to focus on. And, I think the board gets it. The resource has to be our first priority, without that we’re nothing.
Don’t miss the Greenway’s 25th Earth Day Celebration this Saturday, April 27th from 11am to 3pm. Hikes and a variety of activities are planned throughout the day. Get your selfie outside!