Things to do that you won’t find on every ‘best of’ list

You’ve seen the falls in Greenville’s Falls Park, walked the Swamp Rabbit Trail and scoped out Main Street’s shops, bars and restaurants. Now what?

Where are those places that didn’t make the “best of” lists in magazines such as Travel + Leisure and Southern Living? Off the beaten path, there are plenty sites and attractions to keep you busy for a day or longer beyond the busy streets of downtown Greenville. Let us take you there.

While this is not meant to be the end all, be all of Greenville lists, it does have a little something for everyone — outdoors, indoors, in the car, and even on a bike (sort of).

Shop and smash at Taylors Mill

First let’s talk about Taylors Mill, the former Southern Bleachery plant, which closed in 1965 and was reimagined as an eclectic, creative assortment of businesses. This is a huge plant — some 800,000 square feet — where 1,000 or so people once took unfinished fabric and bleached, dyed and finished it for market.

The mill is indeed off the beaten path, about 8 miles from downtown Greenville in Taylors. And it’s not even on the main road, Highway 29, that runs through the community. Highway 29 leads to Main Street in Taylors, and that leads to Mill Street, where the mill is located.

Kari Walker, who is responsible for leasing the space, said it’s about 40% full with businesses. The mix is something to behold — retail stories where people make knives, zithers and jewelry based on maritime themes and sell reclaimed wood for walls and other purposes.

There’s an event space, a fitness center, photographers and artist studios.

And for anyone feeling just a little stressed out, there is The Mad Smash. It’s run by Jennifer Middleton, a massage therapist who one day thought hitting something might be a cure for some of her more fraught customers.

The Mad Smash has a room where you can spend $25 for a 10-minute assault on a car or wield a baseball bat to smash wine bottles. There’s an opportunity to bring your own stuff to destroy — think, perhaps wedding china from a marriage gone bad.

“I’m a believer in not holding onto emotions,” Middleton said.

Among the stress relievers at The Smash Room is a car to beat up. Cars are rotated every three weeks by a salvage yard operator.

Taylors Mill also has a signature restaurant, The Farehouse, and 13 Stripes Brewery, which some in Greenville consider a model for anyone wanting to make beer and provide a place for people to enjoy themselves.

Good so far, right? Well, there’s also 50,000 square feet of model trains, all sizes, all kinds. And an arcade with games new and old and throwback to your days as a preteen in your parent’s house. It’s called Pinky’s Revenge and is owned by Michael Marut, owner and chef at The Farehouse. Pinky for the jilted lover/ghost of Pac-Man, Marut said.

He said he was talking with an electrical contractor at 13 Stripes one night, hashing around ideas to fill a space at the mill. They settled on an arcade.

“A year and a half later, here we are,” he said.

PInky’s Revenge, an old school arcade, recently opened in Taylors Mill.

PInky’s Revenge, an old school arcade, recently opened in Taylors Mill.

Walker said she has a waiting list of artists and others who need a space to work other than their kitchen table.

“We’re all trying to get our businesses off the ground to collaborate and come up with ideas,” Walker said. “It’s almost like a dorm-like community.”

Old Highway 25

If you’re thinking about a nice drive, try Old Highway 25. This two-lane road departs from (the not so new) Highway 25 north of Travelers Rest, just past the intersection of Scenic Highway 11, which in itself is a lovely drive. Old 25 climbs up into the Greenville Watershed, a protected 20,000 acres through which a lot of Greenville’s public drinking water flows.

Greenville is unique in that it owns the land that drains into two reservoirs used for drinking water, Table Rock and Old 25’s North Saluda. And Greenville prides itself on the taste of its water — even winning national awards for it.

The North Saluda Watershed creeks are kept pure by limiting use throughout the property.

The North Saluda Watershed creeks are kept pure by limiting use throughout the property.

You can’t miss knowing you’ve ventured into the watershed. Big signs tell you so, and then there are the reminders to “Do Not Stop.”

“Protected” in that far northern part of South Carolina means protected as in, you can’t come here. Stick to the road. No fishing. No hiking, other than along the Foothills Trail, which edges one boundary. People have faced $500 fines for throwing a line into the North Saluda Reservoir, chasing a 40-pound rainbow trout fighting for its life.

Greenville Water employees patrol the property daily.

Some people are given permission to be on the land, such as descendants of people buried in the Emery-Lyndsey Cemetery, where a cleanup day is held each year.

The road is steep in some areas as it runs beside old growth and mature hardwoods, home to bears, bats and peregrine falcons, a protected species but no longer on the endangered list. They are the fastest birds in the world, swooping down on prey at 200 miles per hour.

This route is a favorite of motorcycle groups, which can get antsy behind the leisurely drivers. But besides the scenery, there’s another good reason to travel this route. When you’re done, you’re in the picture-perfect town of Saluda, North Carolina, with its historic brick storefronts, Wakey Monkey coffee shop and the Purple Onion restaurant, among several other places to eat and shop.

Runway Park

Want a chance to run on a runway? An actual and usually busy airport runway. This weekend is your chance, with the 5k run at Greenville Municipal Airport, known as GMU.

They are billing the Saturday event as the state’s flattest 5k. It is quite literally the length of both runways.

Runway Park at the Greenville Municipal Airport offers plane-themed play and education for children.

Runway Park at the Greenville Municipal Airport offers plane-themed play and education for children.

South Carolina’s busiest general aviation airport is a surprise in so many ways, not the least of which is Runway Park, a 1.38 acre public park geared toward children. The 5k is one of many fundraisers for this project, which over several years has cost about $1 million.

Airplane-themed playplaces mix with an educational amphitheater, where signs detail all sorts of flight data such as the rate of climb for a Cessna compared to a Lear jet — 1,700 feet per minute to 4,500 feet per minute.

A perimeter taxiway is available for exercise, and a Cessna 310 is displayed as if in flight on a pole outside the playground.

Lara Kaufmann, an airport employee who brought the park idea to the Airport Commission, has been the linchpin for taking the idea and making it happen. So much so, she scoured the internet for materials like the Cessna on a pole, which came from an aircraft maintenance school in Georgia, and a patent for a playground plane that she got the owner to build.

There’s another draw — watching the planes and helicopters take off.

Because of the security upgrades after 9/11 at Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport, school groups were no longer able to make field trips there.

GMU decided to fill the void by offering field trips (pre-COVID) for kids. There have been so many, Kaufmann has seen some grow up and become pilots. She’s not taking all the credit for that, but it was likely a factor.

The space was carved from property not suitable for aviation, basically a ditch that was evened out to make a grassy field. Over the years, the park has added something for all children to play on or learn from. A reconfigured Boeing 737 fuselage provides handicapped access.

“It is packed all the time,” Kaufmann said.

Kaufmann said a crowd showed up to watch the most recent total solar eclipse in 2017.

The airport also has a restaurant, the Runway Cafe, which was built before the park. By Labor Day, there also will be a mini-golf course.

The Military History Museum of the Carolinas is located next to the cafe and features military vehicles, uniforms and other artifacts from America’s wars beginning with the War of 1812 but excluding the Civil War.

The Medusa tree

This is just something extraordinary to see. It’s a beech tree on the campus of the Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities, along the Swamp Rabbit Trail adjacent to Falls Park. It’s known by some in Greenville simply as “the root tree” and by others the Medusa tree, after the snake-headed gorgon of Greek mythology.

Austin Haraburda, Amanda Gentieu, Jenni Marshall and Dillon Haraburda (in front) visited Greenville’s favorite tree Thursday, May 27.

Austin Haraburda, Amanda Gentieu, Jenni Marshall and Dillon Haraburda (in front) visited Greenville’s favorite tree Thursday, May 27.

The roots of the tree are fully exposed on one side of a hill to such an extent that an adult standing beside the root system looks like a toddler.

Horticulturalists believe the tree is about 80 years old and adapted to its environment possibly when a road was cut beside it.

“I love this tree,” said Amanda Gentieu, who was at the tree Thursday afternoon. “It’s my favorite in Greenville.”

Experts say the tree is healthy; an equally robust root system is likely in the ground behind the tree. It’s the best-known tree in Greenville — just Google “Medusa tree” to easily see — and as such, it’s a target for small-time vandals, people who carve their initials or champion their love life.

Caution to anyone who tries it around a Greenvillian. This tree is like a family member.

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