GREENVILLE, SC (June 27, 2019) – Thanks to grant support from the Open Space Institute (OSI), popular Jones Gap State Park has been expanded for recreation and for rare plant and animal species. Located in South Carolina’s Blue Ridge mountains, the property will continue to safeguard critical habitat, even as the climate changes.
This week, The Nature Conservancy conveyed the 955-acre “Jones Gap” property to the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism. The tract is also the last large remaining unprotected piece of land in the Mountain Bridge Wilderness: a 40,000-acre corridor of conserved lands which crosses the North and South Carolina state line and includes the DuPont Forest property also supported by OSI earlier this year.
OSI supported conservation of the Jones Gap property with $650,000 — its largest-ever grant through its Resilient Landscape Initiative. The Initiative protects “climate-resilient” lands, defined as the places that are most likely to continue to harbor sensitive plants and animals, even under a changing climate.
“The Open Space Institute is proud to support the expansion of Jones Gap State Park, and prouder still to continue to protect lands in South Carolina that will be a critical stronghold for wildlife and people for generations to come,” said Peter Howell, OSI’s executive vice president. “We congratulate The Nature Conservancy and the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism on this amazing addition to a beloved park.”
Gap Creek is home to healthy, contiguous hardwood forests that provide habitat for animals such as black bear, migratory songbirds, bats, and other animals. Headwater streams and a series of cascades on the property support cold-water fish, salamanders, and frogs before eventually making their way to Saluda Lake, a recreational lake that also provides drinking water to the town of Easley.
Rare and iconic species found on the property include Rafinesque’s big-eared bat (a state endangered animal), green salamander (state critically imperiled), showy orchis (state vulnerable), Carolina fantail darter (state critically imperiled), black bear and a newly discovered species of trillium, currently known as Jones Gap trillium.
“We are grateful to our conservation partners for helping us meet our principles of stewardship and service,” said Paul McCormack, director of the South Carolina State Park Service. “This additional property will help us address the growing demand for public access to the state’s beautiful and distinctive mountain country.”
“The Gap Creek addition to Jones Gap State Park is a project that our children and grandchildren will thank us for,” says Mark Robertson, executive director for The Nature Conservancy in South Carolina. “We’re especially grateful to the South Carolina Conservation Bank and Open Space Institute for their generous support of this project, and we’re proud to have a partner in State Parks that also thinks big and believes in the importance of conserving South Carolina’s special places for all to enjoy.”
The Nature Conservancy originally purchased the Jones Gap property in 2017 for $3.7 million.
The property is not open to the public and it could take two years before day-use amenities are planned and developed. One of the property’s advantages, however, would be its opportunity to expand the carrying capacity at Jones Gap State Park, which currently provides only 36 parking spaces and reaches capacity in the early mornings during busy season.