Charleston, S.C. — January 11, 2016 — A former park and boat landing site is now officially in the hands of the eastern South Carolina residents who had cherished it for 70 years, thanks to the Open Space Institute (OSI), The Nature Conservancy (TNC), and other partners.
The property, known as “Rocky Point,” consists of 462 acres, and 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.
“The successful conservation of Rocky Point is a great success story of a community coming together to protect a wonderful public, economic and environmental asset,” said Kim Elliman, President and CEO of the Open Space Institute. “Rocky Point truly demonstrates the value of innovative partnership to conserve land that matters. We are proud to have been a leader in creating this new community forest.”
“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.”
“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,” said Emma Boyer of Winyah Rivers Foundation. “We’re looking forward to a new generation of memories at Rocky Point.”
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.
“Native forests are one of the South’s greatest and most threatened natural treasures,” said Nate Berry, vice president of Open Space Institute. “We’re excited to be permanently protecting these acres for the habitat they provide to wildlife and as a great example of a sustainable working forest.”
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.”
“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 the remaining funds. “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.
On Dec. 30, Winyah Rivers Foundation acquired the tract from OSI.
Winyah Rivers Foundation will hold title to the property while Georgetown County will serve as the primary managing entity.
Funding for the project came from the 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.