LANCASTER COUNTY, SC (December 19, 2023) –The South Carolina Conservation Bank (SCCB), the Open Space Institute (OSI), the Catawba Nation and partners today celebrated the protection of 600 acres of culturally and historically significant land that will ultimately become a new South Carolina state park. The purchase was made possible by the Nisbet family, who donated most of the land value.
Known as the “Nisbet Tract,” the property is located along one mile of the Catawba River in the heart of the Catawba Nation’s ancestral lands, which once totaled more than 144,000 acres. A focus of the future state park will be ensuring that the Catawba Nation has perpetual access to and co-management of the Nisbet clay pit, which contains a singular active vein of Catawba clay regarded as a sacred living resource by the Nation. An existing 151-acre conservation easement placed on the property by the Nisbet family and held by the Katawba Valley Land Trust includes the clay pits and the riverfront, providing additional protection to the property’s ecological and cultural resources.
OSI acquired the Nisbet property with funding from the SCCB, the Arras Foundation, the Knobloch Family Foundation, Lancaster County and Duke Energy. The property was once proposed for a 1,000-home development in this rapidly expanding region of Lancaster County, just a short distance from Charlotte, North Carolina, but will now be forever protected, securing unique public access and upholding the Catawba Nation’s cultural and traditional connections to the land.
Catawba clay is the lifeblood of the Nation and has been used continuously by its people to make their namesake pottery and sustain their community for more than 6,000 years. During the Great Depression, Catawba women made and sold pottery to help Catawba people survive. In modern times, Catawba pottery has become a well-regarded form of Native American art with pieces made from the clay located on the Nisbet Tract featured in museums throughout the world.
“The Nisbet clay hole site has been an important site for Catawba Nation for generations,” said Catawba Nation Executive Committee member, Roo George-Warren. “Working with Open Space Institute, the Nisbet family, and SC State Parks to ensure this site is preserved and accessible to our artisans while protecting and promoting the natural beauty that surrounds it is an important step in creating a region that honors and protects all of its people."
“The Nisbet property is one of the most compelling conservation projects I have seen in my tenure,” commented Raleigh West, SCCB Executive Director. “Its historic, archaeological, and cultural significance spans the entirety of human civilization in our state and is particularly noteworthy for its ties to the Catawba Nation. I remain extremely grateful to all parties, particularly the family who so generously offered to sell it at a steep discount, for the opportunity to conserve this incredible property for the citizens of South Carolina.”
The Nisbet family sought a conservation and public recreation outcome for the land. “Our family has owned the property for over 100 years. Our father, William Oliver Nisbet, believed in family, fellowship, and community involvement,” said Caroline Nisbet Hewett. “We are proud and truly honored for the opportunity to continue Oliver Nisbet’s legacy by preserving this property for the use and enjoyment of generations to come. We are thankful to Open Space Institute for their assistance to help turn the land into a community space.”
The rolling, river-front property harbors mature piedmont hardwood and floodplain forests, a host of wildlife species, and a stunning bluff along the river. The property contributes to a growing network of protected lands providing publicly accessible open space, outdoor recreation opportunities, and uninterrupted wildlife habitat.
“OSI is proud to have played a role in protecting this exceptional property and all it represents,” said Dr. Maria Whitehead, OSI’s Southeast Vice President of Land. “Together with the Nisbet family and our invaluable funding partners, we are securing unique public access and upholding the Nation’s historic and ancestral connection to this hallowed place.”
“South Carolina State Parks is entrusted with protecting and sharing some of the most treasured natural and cultural resources in the Palmetto State,” said Duane Parish, Director of SCPRT. “We are honored for the opportunity to share the Catawba’s history and culture in this special place with generations of visitors, and we look forward to expanding public access to outdoor recreation in one of the state’s fastest-growing regions.”
“The Arras Foundation is proud to join the public-private partnership dedicated to preserving this important open space for current and future generations. Building a healthy community includes protecting green space, clean air, and water,” said Arras Foundation Chair Lisa Bridges. “Arras is grateful to all partners involved in this project for ensuring the cultural significance of this land is honored while also creating accessible space for healthy living."
“The acquisition of the Nisbet property is a once in a lifetime opportunity to preserve this historic and valuable open space for use and enjoyment for future generations of Lancaster County residents,” stated Dennis Marstall, Lancaster County Administrator. “As a rapidly growing County, with tremendous development pressures and an increasing interest in parks and open space, saving this piece of property is another way in which we can tangibly demonstrate we are working to enhance the quality of life in Lancaster County.”
“We think it’s important to work alongside community partners to ensure the natural beauty and cultural history of South Carolina can be protected and enjoyed for generations to come,” said Rick Jiran, vice president of community relations for Duke Energy. “We are excited to play a part in the addition of this historic land to South Carolina’s state park system.”
OSI intends to hold the property until the state is prepared to accept the land as a donation.