Nature Conservancy Sets Stage to Add 955 Acres of Public Access to Jones Gap State Park
Conservancy closes on Gap Creek property, plans to transfer it to South Carolina State Parks to increase Jones Gap State Park by nearly 25 percent
Greenville, South Carolina
In warmer months, it’s common to see a line of cars waiting outside Jones Gap State Park as early as 9 a.m. on the weekend. Jones Gap has only 36 parking spaces; when those are full, the park is considered “at capacity” and the gates close until more visitors can be accepted. With 415,852 visitors welcomed to the Mountain Bridge Wilderness area last year – a figure that has nearly doubled since 2014 – getting outdoors is getting harder to do.
Now, the park’s capacity likely will get a sorely needed boost.
The Nature Conservancy has purchased 955 acres in northern Greenville County known as the Gap Creek property. The Conservancy plans to transfer the property to South Carolina State Parks in 2018 to be added to Jones Gap State Park. The Gap Creek addition will increase the size of the park by nearly 25 percent.
“It’s rare to be part of a project of this size and impact,” says Mark Robertson, executive director for The Nature Conservancy in South Carolina. “We’re thankful to our supporters who made this possible and to the previous landowners, who were excellent stewards of this property. It’s exciting to be able to open another 955 acres of the Blue Ridge to public access.”
“Gap Creek is a dual gift for Upstate residents and visitors,” says Phil Gaines, South Carolina state park director. “Its 955 acres include flat land that is ideal for more parking, facilities, trail heads and other visitor amenities. This property can help the Park Service meet its vision for expanding visitor service and making this wilderness area accessible to more South Carolinians.”
Gap Creek has been a high conservation priority for decades because of its size, connection to other conserved lands and unique natural features. The property is home to healthy, contiguous hardwood forests that provide habitat for animals such as black bear, migratory songbirds and even bats. Headwater streams and a series of cascades on the property support cold-water fish, salamanders and frogs before eventually making their way to Saluda Lake, a recreational lake that also provides drinking water to the town of Easley, S.C.
Rare and iconic species found on the property include Rafinesque’s big-eared bat (state endangered), green salamander (state critically imperiled), showy orchis (state vulnerable), Carolina fantail darter (state critically imperiled), black bear and a newly discovered species of trillium, currently known as Jones Gap trillium.
The property is also the last large remaining unprotected piece of land in the Mountain Bridge Wilderness, a 40,000-acre corridor of land envisioned by late Upstate conservationist Tommy Wyche. It bridges the area between the Table Rock Watershed and North Saluda Watershed. With the addition of Gap Creek, the Mountain Bridge Wilderness is nearly complete, solidifying a vision decades in the making and ensuring that future generations will enjoy ample open space for hiking, fishing, camping, birding and more.
The purchase of Gap Creek has been supported by the South Carolina Conservation Bank, Duke Energy Water Resources Fund, The Graham Foundation, Mr. and Mrs. Gary L. Aten, Campbell Young Leaders, Mrs. Lillian C. Darby, Mr. and Mrs. John A. Dreher, Mr. and Mrs. Paul W. Jones, Mr. and Mrs. John F. Klein, Dr. Jack R. Postle, Mr. and Mrs. Bob Rao, Mr. Wade H. Sherard III, Mr. and Mrs. Fred J. Stanback, Mr. and Mrs. James W. Stuttle, Mr. and Mrs. Richard O. Webb and an anonymous donor.
“We need to act now to ensure that our kids and grandkids can enjoy the benefits of natural habitat and wildlife that we now enjoy,” said Kodwo Ghartey-Tagoe, state president for Duke Energy in South Carolina. “Conservation of the Gap Creek property is a huge win for the community, and we are grateful to The Nature Conservancy and the many other partners that came together to make this happen.”
Pledges to the project also include the Open Space Institute and the Wyche Family.
Gap Creek was purchased for $3.7 million. The Conservancy has a loan for the property and is continuing to fundraise for the remaining $500,000.
The Conservancy previously added 300 acres to Jones Gap State Park in 2012, following a three-year private fundraising effort that was supported by more than 400 citizens
The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 79 countries and territories, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.