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Collaboration Enhances Visitor Experience at Rocky River Nature Park

September 1, 2023
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Visitors to Rocky River Nature Park can enjoy new benches created by sculpture students in the South Carolina School of the Arts.

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Rocky River Nature Park is a natural sanctuary that’s a part of Anderson University where visitors can experience a diverse natural habitat of wildflowers, wildlife and wetlands.

Within its 178 acres are two miles of trails, boardwalks and spaces where visitors can enjoy diverse flora and fauna. Rocky River Nature Park also serves as an outdoor classroom for a variety of university and community programs. 

Thanks to a collaboration between sculpture students in the South Carolina School of the Arts and the College of Arts and Sciences, visitors can enjoy five new benches installed throughout the property.

Dr. Laary Cushman, assistant professor of biology and director of the Rocky River Nature Park, approached Zac Benson, a professor of art in the Art and Design Department of the South Carolina School of the Arts to see whether his students could design and create benches for the park. 

“When we realized that we needed benches out there that would last a bit longer than what was built, my idea was to somehow draw art into the park and make the benches stand out a little bit more,” Dr. Cushman said. “I talked to Zac Benson and he was telling me how his sculpture class was doing a lot of welding and using mixed materials. So I fielded the idea to him to see how he would work the need for the project into the course itself.”

In a way, the chance to do such a project was serendipitous for Benson. He recalls visiting the Rocky River Nature Park when he and his family first moved to Anderson. 

“I love that now I am helping other people enjoy it more,” said Benson, adding that he feels honored that he and his students are a part of something that benefits the university and the community. Benson especially liked that he was able to involve his sculpture students in an education that took place outside the four walls of the art studio and taught some key skills beyond design and creation of the benches, as well.

“They had to design the bench, they had to get it approved by the university, they had to fabricate it to make it not only stable just like a chair—we do furniture projects in sculpture—but it also has to be outside, so you have to think about weatherproofing, the materials that can withstand the elements, so it really taught them about public art,” Benson said. “You think about safety. You think about longevity. You think about functionality.”

Soon to be added to the park, in addition to the benches, there will be 13 steel directional signs along the trails. According to Benson, the new signs will replace wooden signs and better mark the two mile network of trails for visitors. Other projects are planned in the near future to further enhance the visitor experience.

The Rocky River Nature Park is open sunrise to sunset, seven days a week and admission is free. The park entrance is located at 1311 Old Williamston Road, close to Anderson University’s Athletic Campus. Details and a map can be found on the Rocky River Conservancy website.


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