Paddlers on the Waccamaw River

Celebrating 25 Years of the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge

Image Credit: Christine Ellis

CHARLESTON, SC (October 26, 2023) - The Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge (WNWR) was established in the late 1990’s with a mere 134 acres of land. Today, this celebrated South Carolina refuge comprises more than 37,000 acres—and the Open Space Institute has played an integral part in its expansion.

In mid-October, leaders and supporters gathered at Hasty Point Plantation, part of the WNWR, to celebrate the refuge’s 25th anniversary. Hasty Point Plantation, considered a gateway to the refuge and now open to the public for the first time, was secured as an invaluable resource by the WNWR, OSI, Ducks Unlimited, and Bob Schofield, a conservation-minded landowner, in 2020.

Spanning three counties in eastern South Carolina, the WNWR was established to protect and manage habitat within its coastal river ecosystems, especially tidal freshwater forested wetlands, and to provide wildlife-dependent recreational activities such as hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, photography, and environmental education.

In recent years, OSI has worked closely with the refuge to secure more than 1,000 acres of land within the acquisition boundary. Properties like Hasty Point Plantation, the 237-acre Triangle tract, and the 56-acre Hendrix parcels were added to the refuge to connect wildlife habitat, consolidate refuge ownership and management, and provide access and recreation opportunities for the local community.

The WNWR, Hasty Point, the Triangle tract, the Hendrix property, and the surrounding lands offer an ecological haven for a host of rare and threatened species, including Bobwhite Quail, Wild Turkey, Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, wintering waterfowl, Wood Storks, and songbirds — all of which thrive in the region’s native longleaf pine forests, intact ricefield impoundments, and freshwater forested wetlands.

Maria Whitehead, OSI’s Vice President of Land, Southeast, first came to the WNWR in 1999 as a post-graduate student in ornithology studying the region’s Swallow-Tailed Kites. Today, she marvels at the expansion of the refuge.

“The protection of the land along the Pee Dee and Waccamaw Rivers is a priceless gift for future generations and the species that depend upon it,” said Whitehead. “By protecting and adding to the Waccamaw Refuge, we can ensure that the river and lands continue to give all the benefits they have to offer as part of South Carolina’s irreplaceable natural and cultural heritage.”

Hasty Point, along with two dozen other local plantations, once formed the cornerstone of the region’s—and the nation’s—rice-producing economy. The refuge is collaborating with OSI’s new Southeast Parks Program to create the site design, interpretation, and public amenities that embrace and illuminate Hasty Point’s complex past, which will blend cultural and historic preservation with land conservation and recreation. With OSI’s assistance, the refuge hopes to create a site plan for educational interpretation of the history of slavery at the plantation and within the surrounding historic district.

“We’re really building the community into the refuge. It’s not just about wild lands. It’s about culture. It’s about history. It’s about education,” said Craig Sasser, Refuge Manager, at the 25th anniversary event.

The protection of the WNWR, along the Waccamaw and Pee Dee Rivers and the surrounding lands, reflects OSI’s commitment to protecting strategically important properties along SC’s coastal rivers. Five of these rivers—including the well-known Pee Dee, Black, and Waccamaw rivers—converge in the Winyah Bay region. The area is nationally recognized for its diverse array of flora and fauna, rich cultural heritage, and significance to both the region’s Gullah Geechee communities and South Carolina’s Indigenous communities, including the Waccamaw people.

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