Beaufort County’s innovative Rural and Critical Land Preservation(R&CLP) Program announced today that 2014 proved to be among the most successful it its history. “It’s was a great year”, says R&CLP Board Chairman Ed Pappas. “I am happy to announce that the program closed five conservation easements and purchased two fee properties. There were some special properties protected throughout the County.”
In 2014, the five conservation easements purchased totaled 869 acres and costing approximately $1.7 million dollars with outside federal partners contributing over $857,000 to share in the cost. “Continuing to grow our Partnerships really helps the Program stretch its funding and best use the dollars”, says Lisa Lord, the Program’s administrator.
Land Protection highlights include:
- Gardens Corner Preserve, located in far northern Beaufort County with frontage on Hwy 17 and Hwy 21 is a 335-acre purchased easement that protects the “unofficial” entrance to Beaufort County. This bargain sale conservation easement purchase protects and maintains the rural character of the ACE Basin and the “west fork” of the Huspah Creek whose system feeds the Whale Branch.
- Continued successful partnership with the Beaufort Marine Corp Air Station to buffer the Air Station and protect the flight paths included the purchase of a conservation easement on the 154.5 acre Harvey family property protecting the headwaters of Habersham Creek and a conservation easement on the 291-acre Dopson property connecting conservation easements on Coosaw and Chisholm Plantations, and protecting the marshes and tributaries of the Coosaw River. These easements are purchased with 50% matching funds from the Marine Corps Air Station.
- The Program also continued its long standing partnership with the National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to protect Beaufort County’s prime farmland on St. Helena Island. Two active farms, the 13.91-acre King and the 74.32- acre Christian Trask conservation easements were also purchased with 50% matching funds from the NRCS Farm and Ranchland Protection Program.
In addition to the conservation easement purchases, the R&CLP purchased or contributed to the purchase of two properties, the Forby property and the “4P” Property. The Forby tract was a joint purchase between Beaufort County, the Stormwater Utility, and the Rural and Critical Program, and provides a natural forested wetland hydrological connection between Victoria Bluff Heritage Preserve, tributaries of the Colleton River, and wetlands south of the Bluffton Parkway.
Also, protected was an 3.92-acre island, located adjacent to Highway 170 near the Chechessee River and Widgeon Point and Lemon Island, two properties currently owned by the Open Land Trust and Beaufort County. “Because of the ecological significance of this area, this corridor has been a land protection priority for many years”, says Lord, the Program’s Administrator. “This corridor provides extraordinary habitat for many bird species, including many migratory birds, and is both ecologically and economically important as a nursery for many commercial marine species.”
According to Pappas, “There were administrative accomplishments with the program as well”. “We are pleased with the approval of the Rural and Critical Land Preservation Program $20 Million Bond Referendum. Support was overwhelming with over 70% of voters approving the bond referendum.”
After nearly a year long process, the Beaufort County Greenprint update was completed last August. The Open Land Trust held discussions with stakeholders from every district in the County to determine if the current conservation priorities still apply. The information was compiled to create an updated Greenprint map and Conservation Plan. The first Greenprint was developed in 2006, and the updated Greenprint will continue to be used to guide decision making and prioritize land purchases.
Pappas also said there were consultant changes at the program. The Open Land Trust, which administers the program on behalf of the County, turned to Certified Wildlife Biologist Lisa Lord and conservation attorney Ken Driggers to administer the program. Mrs. Lord was hired by OLT in 2013 having worked previously for five years for The Nature Conservancy. Mr. Driggers has consulted with the Rural and Critical Program since 2008.