New Year, New Life for Rocky Point Community Forest in Georgetown County
Unique conservation partnership acquires land for public recreation and native forest restoration
Columbia, SC | January 13, 2016
The new year already is bringing good news for Georgetown County residents. Thanks to a unique partnership between The Nature Conservancy, Winyah Rivers Foundation, Open Space Institute and Georgetown County, former beloved park and boat landing site Rocky Point is getting a new lease on life.
Following a Dec. 30, 2015, closing on the property by Winyah Rivers Foundation, Rocky Point’s 462 acres will be developed into coastal South Carolina’s first public-use community forest. Many of its historically popular features will return, including hiking and biking trails and a boat launch site.
“We’re thrilled to be resurrecting such a valued community asset and grateful to The Nature Conservancy, Georgetown County and Open Space Institute for welcoming us into this landmark partnership. This gives us the opportunity to take a new approach in pursuing our mission in the Winyah Bay watershed,” said Emma Boyer of Winyah Rivers Foundation. “We’re looking forward to a new generation of fond memories made on the river at Rocky Point.”
A Rocky History
Many Georgetown County residents fondly recall Sunday picnics and fishing trips at Rocky Point, which was managed as a public park by International Paper (IP) and Georgetown County for nearly 70 years. After IP sold the property in 2007 to a timber investment management organization, the new owners closed both the park and the landing.
“Losing Rocky Point was a big blow to the community,” said Jimmy Greene, Chair of the Choppee Community Group/Association. “This was where we hiked, we fished, we celebrated birthdays and had holiday cookouts. There’s nothing else like it nearby.”
Both South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SC DNR) and Georgetown County heard significant public outcry over the park’s closing. SC DNR engaged The Nature Conservancy to develop a plan to purchase the property and reopen it to the public. In response, the Conservancy formed the Rocky Point Community Forest partnership.
Reclaiming Rocky Point was more than a two-year process after the partnership was formed. The Nature Conservancy took the lead on securing funding and coordinating partners. Because the previous owners could not wait for all the acquisition funds to be assembled, the Open Space Institute (OSI) purchased the property in June 2015 and then assisted in raising funds. On Dec. 30, Winyah Rivers Foundation acquired the tract from OSI.
“The importance of the project was obvious, so OSI felt comfortable acquiring the property before the funds to make it public were secured. If projects like Rocky Point can’t get funded, none can,” said Nate Berry, vice president at OSI.
Winyah Rivers Foundation will hold title to the property while Georgetown County will serve as the primary managing entity.
“This partnership is a great thing for Georgetown County and areas beyond. It will create numerous opportunities for outdoor activities and recreation for the public,” says Sel Hemingway, Georgetown County administrator. “The county looks forward to working with the Conservancy and other stakeholders in developing the plan to make this property as accessible as possible, both to county residents and to visitors who love our natural resources as much as we do."
Funders for the project to date include North American Wetlands Conservation Act Program, South Carolina Conservation Bank, Duke Energy’s Water Resources Fund, Carolina Bird Club, Bunnelle Foundation and Gilbert Butler Special Projects Fund, a fund held at the Open Space Institute Land Trust.
“The diverse group that has come together to create this community forest really speaks to how many people love and appreciate this property,” said Maria Whitehead, Winyah Bay/Pee Dee project director for The Nature Conservancy. “It’s a draw for birders, a great spot to kayak, a beautiful place to hike and a wonderful playground and classroom for local families.”
The Forest’s Future
The future Rocky Point Community Forest will be managed for three primary objectives: public use and recreation, forest restoration and education and outreach.
- Recreation: The property will serve as the first large, public, passive recreation park of its kind in Georgetown County. It will have trails for hiking and biking, a picnic area and a boat landing. Other recreational opportunities, such as camping, will be explored and evaluated during a community planning process.
“Choppee Creek along the western boundary on the property winds a narrow path through emergent wetlands and bluff forest. This is a great place for novice kayakers to have an intimate experience with a black-water creek,” said Richard Laurent, owner of Black River Outdoors.
- Restoration: The on-site forest will be managed to restore and maintain native, threatened mature tidal forested freshwater wetlands, mature upland hardwood bluff forest and longleaf pine forest. Timber products harvested during and after the longleaf pine restoration will help fund ongoing management and maintenance needs.
- Education: The size, location, and diverse forest communities on the property also make it ideal for local environmental education initiatives, colleges and universities and private landowners.
“Rocky Point’s close proximity to our school and frontage on the Black River make it an excellent outdoor lab site for us,” says Brian Clark, chair of the Forestry Management Technology Program at Horry-Georgetown Technical College. “It’s a great resource to instruct our students in plant identification, timber measurement, multiple-use recreation and forest ecology.”
The Winyah Rivers Foundation is a non-profit environmental organization whose mission is to protect, preserve, monitor and revitalize the health of the lands and waters of the greater Winyah Bay watershed. Our goal is to protect our community's right to fishable, swimmable and drinkable water. We pursue this goal through education and advocacy programs in support of our mission to protect our river resources. These programs are developed and implemented to increase the scientific literacy of our community, including local decision makers, and to engage them in environmental stewardship and planning for river resource protections.
The Open Space Institute protects scenic, natural and historic landscapes to provide public enjoyment, conserve habitat and working lands and sustain communities. Founded in 1974 to protect significant landscapes in New York State, OSI has been a partner in the protection of nearly 2.2 million acres in North America. A leader in environmental conservation, OSI leverages our knowledge and attracts resources for strategic investments to make innovative land conservation happen. Visit OSI online at www.osiny.org.
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 unprecedented scale, and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in more than 65 countries, 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.