In the spirit of all things green, staff and trustees of The Nature Conservancy of South Carolina arrived by canoe and kayak at the Nov. 13, 2009, dedication of one of the largest habitat conservation purchases in South Carolina history.
The 25,668-acre block of Marion County forested wetland, which insiders call the “Woodbury Tract,” is situated between the Great Pee Dee and Little Pee Dee rivers. The nearly $29 million property, managed by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR), includes 38 miles of river frontage and at least a dozen Carolina Bays.
In addition to providing recreational opportunities, the forested wetland protects important wildlife and aquatic species habitats for creatures such as the Kentucky warbler, Louisiana waterthrush, rusty blackbird, and the swallow-tailed kite.
The Conservancy is one of many partners involved in making the historic dedication possible. Other partners include Gov. Mark Sanford, the South Carolina Conservation Bank, The Conservation Fund, and International Paper, the previous owner of the property. International Paper decided to sell the tract as part of a companywide divestment initiative.
“From an ecological standpoint, this is one of the most important acquisitions in the state’s history,” DNR Director John Frampton said. “This is a tract of land that has significant cultural and historic value and really high wildlife diversity and plant diversity.”
In total, the acquisition cost $28.9 million. DNR initially purchased a 56 percent interest in the land, while The Nature Conservancy and the Conservation Fund together held title to the remaining 44 percent. The purchase was completed with funds from the S.C. Conservation Bank and a Heritage Trust bond bill, which paid the initial interest on the property.
The remaining funding came from various sources, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a state wildlife grant, North American Wetlands Conservation Act money, a Coastal Wetlands grant, and the U.S. Forest Service.
“Preserving the way we look and feel as a state not only improves our quality of life but also speaks to this larger notion of competitiveness in an increasingly ‘flat’ world,” South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford said. “In that sense, I’d applaud the hard work of all involved in acquiring this tract of land and urge continued efforts to protect valuable environmental assets like the Woodbury forestland all across the state.”
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham was scheduled to appear at the dedication but was prevented by congressional obligations. He issued a statement, which was read by an aide.
“One of South Carolina’s greatest treasures is the natural beauty of our surroundings. We have a responsibility to help ensure our state’s natural resources are preserved for the benefit of future generations. Opportunities to preserve large tracts of land like this do not come about very often,” Sen. Graham wrote. “I commend the Conservation Fund, The Nature Conservancy, and the DNR, under the leadership of John Frampton, for coming together to make this happen. I’m very pleased to see a commitment to protecting this environmentally significant tract of land.”
TNC-SC Executive Director Mark Robertson expressed appreciation for the deeply collaborative work to secure the acquisition, adding that sustained funding for the S.C. Conservation Bank is essential.
“This has been a great partnership, committed to conserving South Carolina’s natural heritage,” Robertson said. “Our partnership has accomplished something truly inspiring that will benefit generations of South Carolinians who love the state’s natural habitats and appreciate the recreational opportunities, the clean water, clean air, and abundant wildlife they provide.”