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Congaree Land Trust Announces Collaborative Conservation of 5,620 Acres
Four Conservation Easements Permanently Protect Richland County’s Natural and Scenic Lands
COLUMBIA, SC—Over 5,600 acres east of Fort Jackson Military Base and south of McEntire Joint National Guard Base in Richland County are now conserved, thanks to the collaborative efforts of the Congaree Land Trust (CLT), The Conservation Fund, the Army National Guard and multiple landowners. Now under conservation easement, but remaining in private ownership, these four properties—Murray Tract LLC, Willow Lake Business Park LLC, the Weston Family Tract, and Congaree Carton LP-Gilmore East II Tract— will permanently protect significant green space in central South Carolina while providing a buffer of compatible use around important military bases in the Midlands.
“Partnering with conservation-minded landowners, The Conservation Fund, and the military has allowed us to conserve a significant area of land within the COWASEE Basin,” remarks Mary Crockett, CLT Land Protection Director. “Consisting of upland pine plantations, rolling hills, and bottomland hardwood areas, these lands will allow our large fauna the area they need to roam while enhancing the air and water quality for all. Protection of these recreational and working lands also helps to ensure their ongoing contribution towards our state’s economy with the production of forest and agriculture products through time.”
Each property now under a conservation easement is located within the boundaries of the 315,000-acre core of the COWASEE Basin Focus Area, a landscape conservation project initiated by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) and supported by various private landowners and public and private conservation organizations. The COWASEE Basin encompasses some of the most historical, natural, and cultural features in South Carolina and contains two miles of river frontage along the Wateree River. These newly conserved properties also lie within Congaree Biosphere Reserve, an international designation by UNESCO to honor and protect the unique ecosystems of the South Carolinian Midlands around the Congaree River.
These four properties bring the total acreage under conservation easement by CLT in Richland County to 16,897 acres. CLT’s conservation efforts in and around the Wateree Heritage Preserve, coupled with the land protected by the preserve itself, provide a total of 8,993 contiguous acres which allows unimpeded pathways for wildlife in the area.
The conservation of these lands was made possible in part by funding from the United States Department of Defense’s Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration Program (REPI) in support of the Midlands Area Joint Installation Consortium (MAJIC). MAJIC seeks to promote the cooperative use of land, air, and water resources in the Midlands while effectively supporting the five military training facilities in the area. REPI supports federal-state-private partnerships to remove or avoid land-use conflicts near military installations, which helps sustain critical military mission capabilities.
“The Conservation Fund is very pleased to partner again with Congaree Land Trust to protect these significant areas of Richland County’s working landscapes, important habitats, and vital watersheds,” says Jason Johnson, SC State Director of The Conservation Fund. “We thank U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott and U.S. Representative James Clyburn for the critical federal funding from the REPI program. We would also like to thank the landowners. Without their patience and generosity, these conservation easements would not have happened. This project is a fantastic intersection of land conservation and protection of military mission, and The Conservation Fund looks forward to continuing to work with all our partners to build on this momentum.”
In addition to establishing the permanent protection of these properties, CLT was pleased to collaborate with The Palmetto Conservation Foundation to facilitate an agreement with the owners of the Murray Tract for the creation of a new section of the Palmetto Trail, South Carolina’s longest pedestrian and biking trail. This new section of trail will help in the connection of the Fort Jackson and Wateree Passages. Once completed and opened to the public, hikers and bikers will enjoy bluff views adjacent to natural pine stands overlooking the scenic Wateree River floodplain.
“It’s always a great day when we can add trail mileage and connect passages. Working with Congaree Land Trust is a wonderful example of what successful partnerships look like,” says Mary Roe, Executive Director of the Palmetto trail. “This new passage will mostly be built by the Palmetto Conservation Corps team. The Palmetto Conservation Corps is South Carolina’s only trail-based state AmeriCorps Program. The Corps completes service work on the Palmetto Trail, through public lands, in communities, and with various organizations throughout the state.”
Conserving these lands helps maintain the health of our watersheds, enhances outdoor recreation, protects water quality for citizens, and enriches the natural resource economy of the state, while sustaining the military’s economic contribution. A 2017 study reported that the military community represents 8.4 percent of the South Carolina economy, composed of 181,847 jobs, or one of every 12 jobs in the state. The average compensation for jobs supported by the military community is $54,701 per year, 37 percent higher than the average job.
“Through Congaree Land Trust, The Conservation Fund, Fort Jackson and this great group of partners, we are able to help permanently protect vital working forest land and wildlife habitat in the COWASEE Basin, which is important to us.” says Francis Beidler IV, landowner of the Murray Tract IV and Willow Lake. “We’re pleased that our land will also provide a recreational opportunity for folks who love these natural spaces as much as we do.”
Visit https://congareelt.org/news for more information about each conserved property.
About Congaree Land Trust: The Congaree Land Trust (CLT) is a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization committed to conserving the natural and scenic lands in central South Carolina. Since 1992, CLT has conserved 87,510 acres, representing 180 individual conservation easements across 13 counties. Conservation easements help protect the natural areas that fuel our state’s natural resource-based economy and define our way of life. Learn more about CLT’s work at https://congareelt.org.