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Open Space Institute Celebrates Major Expansion of South Carolina’s Cartwheel Bay Heritage Preserve

HORRY COUNTY, SC (May 7, 2024)—Home to numerous rare and endangered plants and unique landforms, South Carolina’s Cartwheel Bay Heritage Preserve has now been greatly expanded, thanks to the efforts of the Open Space Institute (OSI) and partners.

OSI announced today that it has transferred two contiguous properties totaling 417 acres to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) to be added to Cartwheel Bay in Horry County. Together, the properties increase the size of Cartwheel Bay by 40 percent, bringing the total size of the Preserve to nearly 1,000 acres. 

The protection and expansion of Cartwheel Bay safeguards habitat for rare, threatened, and endangered species including the Wells pixie moss, numerous orchid varietals, and two dozen species of carnivorous plants. Additionally, the land is one of the only places simultaneously supporting both Longleaf pines and Carolina Bays — isolated freshwater wetlands in natural shallow depressions that are fed by rain and shallow groundwater. 

Located less than an hour from Myrtle Beach, the protected properties will expand recreational opportunities in one of South Carolina’s fastest-growing regions by adding two miles of trails to the Preserve for birding, hiking, and cycling. In addition to its ecological significance, the Preserve is also known as an excellent birding location due to its many native warbler species. 

“OSI is proud to have worked with SCDNR to expand Cartwheel Bay Heritage Preserve. This is a significant conservation achievement for Horry County and the rare plants that depend on its Carolina Bays for survival,” said Nate Berry, OSI’s Chief Land Protection Officer. “Expanding Cartwheel Bay Preserve also gives added protection to its unique Carolina Bays and increases outdoor recreation opportunities. This is a win for people and nature, alike.”

“We are proud to partner with Open Space Institute to protect this property, which includes forested wetlands, upland areas, and a portion of a Carolina Bay.  The land adjoins a complex of Carolina Bays located within SCDNR’s Cartwheel Bay Heritage Preserve/Wildlife Management Area. Acquisition of the property will ensure the long-term protection of these unique features and their associated habitats that contain rare and endangered plant species,” SCDNR Director Robert Boyles said. 

There are more than 2,600 Carolina Bays in South Carolina, although it is estimated that hundreds more have been drained or lost to development. The bays have been listed as a protection priority in the state’s Heritage Trust Program since 1983 and are a conservation target for many agencies and stakeholders because of their capacity to absorb and store rainwater and support diverse plant life. 

Horry County — home to over 400 bays, more than any other county in the state — is a special focus of the effort to protect and restore the bays. The oval-shaped bays are generally oriented in a northwest/southeast direction in North and South Carolina, and can be found from Florida to New Jersey, although they appear most numerously in the Carolinas. Recent work by the U.S. Geological Survey interpreted the Carolina Bays as relict thermokarst lakes that have been modified by wind and lake processes. The long axes of these lakes are oblique to the prevailing wind directions, and they are developed by thawing of frozen ground, with subsequent modification by wind and waves. The interpretation of Carolina Bays as relict thermokarst lakes implies that frozen ground once extended as far south as the Carolina Bays during the last ice age and/or previous ice ages.  (Updated with information from the U.S. Geological Survey.)


About the Open Space Institute

Founded in 1974, the Open Space Institute (OSI) has been a partner in the protection of more than 2.5 million acres along the eastern seaboard from Quebec to Florida. OSI’s Southeast office, established in Charleston in 2014, has been a partner in the protection of more than 50,000 acres in South Carolina, the vast majority of which will be open to the public. Visit OSI online at

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