WINDSOR — Aiken State Park had some self-described "river rats" among its visitors Saturday, playing host to the fourth annual Blackwater Summer Festival, with a focus on the health, protection and enjoyment of the Edisto River.

Friends of the Edisto River, as the sponsoring organization, had a variety of displays on hand, encouraging visitors to learn more about the Edisto and get involved with efforts to protect one of the longest free-flowing blackwater rivers in America. The waterway, contained entirely within South Carolina, has its origins in Saluda and Edgefield counties and reaches the ocean at Edisto Beach, in Colleton County.

Barbecue, watermelon and live music were among Saturday's offerings, and the dozens of visitors got a chance to meet with representatives of FRED, the Sierra Club, Water for Aiken County through Environmental Reform and the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, with its traditional, live assortment of feathery, slimy or scaly creatures from around the CSRA.

"It's a chance to do some outreach and introduce some people to the river and what's here," said FRED booster Hugo Krispyn, who has a riverside home between Wagener and Batesburg. A major goal, he added, is to support "the ongoing effort to take care of what we've got." 

Water-policy issues were topics of discussion. "There's going to be a lot of conversations about what we do with water resources and how all stakeholders, including agriculture, have an equitable chance to make use of the resource and still protect it for future generations," Krispyn said.

Also included was an announcement by Mallory Biering, director of Palmetto Pride's "Keep South Carolina Beautiful" campaign. Plans are in place, she said, for an "Adopt-a-Landing" program, to help beautification and litter control.

"We're going to start with the Edisto River, but eventually we'll also be open to ... other rivers," she said. "Basically, it's much like the 'Adopt-a-Highway' program, except that it's for landings. You're required to do four clean-ups a year. We help with supplies – that is, Palmetto Pride helps with supplies – and we just want to get into the communities and make sure that people understand that these are recreation areas, but ... also areas that people from outside the counties use."

A "nice, clean facility" that represents the host county well is a goal, Biering confirmed.

Krispyn made similar comments, noting that hopes are to "have some people taking care of the access points and making sure that they're not looking all junked up when people get there."

He said FRED was established in the wake of a 1990s study of the river's basin, which resulted in a call for a stewardship organization.