LANCASTER COUNTY, SC (Sep. 29, 2020) — The Open Space Institute (OSI), the Lynches River Conservation Fund, and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR) today announced an addition to the Forty-Acre Rock Heritage Preserve. The “Edwards” property, originally protected by OSI in 2019, includes a tributary off of Flat Creek. Flat Creek is designated Critical Habitat by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for the Federally Endangered Carolina Heelsplitter mussel (Lasmigona decorata).
The approximately 58-acre “Edwards” property is near the 159-acre “Ardrey” property, which was also added to the Forty-Acre Rock Heritage Preserve by OSI and its partners in 2018. The Edwards property was acquired with a grant from the Lynches River Conservation Fund, administered by Central Carolina Community Foundation.
Thought extinct until rediscovered in 1987, Heelsplitters are the sustained focus of state and federal restoration efforts. The mussels remain in the wild in eight distinct North and South Carolina regions, including six where OSI has protected land over the past four years. Silt-free stream bottoms are critical to the mussels’ feeding and breeding cycles, making riparian land protection a crucial component in their survival and recovery.
“OSI is proud to have transferred this property to the Forty-Acre Rock Heritage Preserve for the critically endangered Carolina Heelsplitter,” said Nate Berry, OSI’s senior vice president in South Carolina. “We commend the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and the Lynches River Conservation Fund, for achieving an outcome that protects land for both habitat and recreation.”
The Southeastern United States is home to the richest, and most imperiled, aquatic diversity in North America. Freshwater mussel diversity is high, but due to habitat degradation or loss, species like the endemic Carolina Heelsplitter have become rare and now have highly fragmented distributions.
“Every chance we get to reverse that trend and stabilize populations, we have the responsibility to do so,” states Anna Huckabee Smith, State Wildlife Action Plan Coordinator for SC DNR. “We are thankful to have partners like OSI and the Lynches River Conservation Fund in this endeavor.”
“The Lynches River Conservation Fund seeks to improve the water quality and ecological integrity of the Lynches River watershed,” states Erin Johnson, vice president, community investment at Central Carolina Community Foundation. “The efforts of DNR will have a significant positive impact on the Lancaster County.”
Forty-Acre Rock Heritage Preserve, spanning some 3,000 acres, is known as one of the best birding and wildflower spots in South Carolina. Designated as a National Natural Landmark, the Preserve includes pine forests, granite flatrocks, oak-hickory hardwood forests, successional habitat, a very large beaver pond, and hardwood floodplain forests along Flat Creek.
Now that DNR has acquired the land, the property will undergo reforestation into native vegetation, and open to the public for recreation.
Since 2013, OSI has protected more than 15,000 acres in South Carolina, from the Blue Ridge to the coast.