New York, NY — January 16, 2014 — Using a critical bridge loan from the Open Space Institute that allowed the acquisition to proceed while funding sources were finalized, Naturaland Trust and Upstate Forever have protected one of South Carolina’s most special places—the 1,648-acre Nine Times Forest in Pickens County, South Carolina.
An ecological jewel, the property contains three mountains of stunning granite outcroppings as well as streams, creeks and stands of hardwoods. Located in close proximity to Jocassee Gorges, the tract also provides exceptional habitat for bear and other wildlife.
Last year, Naturaland Trust and Upstate Forever negotiated an option to purchase the property from the owner, Crescent Communities, at a price of $3,543,780 and began seeking public and private support for the project.
The funding came together from four major sources, with OSI’s $1.9 million loan the “glue” that bridged the funding and allowed the acquisition to be completed on time. This is the second loan OSI has made to the Naturaland Trust in the past two years. The first helped secure nearly 300 acres along the Cherokee Foothills National Scenic Highway.
The Open Space Institute has been active in the Southern Appalachians for 10 years, during that time making loans and grants that assisted over a dozen land trusts with the protection of some 29,000 acres in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.
“We are thrilled to partner with Naturaland Trust again to protect the resources of this special area of the upstate,” said Nate Berry, OSI’s vice president.
Naturaland Trust’s first funding source for the acquisition was a grant from the U.S. Forest Service. The grant was awarded through the Community Forest and Open Space Conservation Program in a highly competitive process. Only 10 grants were awarded nationwide, and Naturaland Trust and Upstate Forever’s grant was one of only two in the Southeast.
OSI’s commitment to forestland protection can be seen all over the East Coast. Two conservation projects in New England, the Barre Town Forest and the Cooley-Jericho Community Forest, were also supported by and were among the 10 nationwide that received grants from the U.S. Forest Service.
Next, Fred and Alice Stanback, North Carolina conservationists who have been key supporters of efforts to protect important places in the South Carolina Blue Ridge, including Stumphouse Mountain, made a generous donation in honor of conservation visionary and founder of Naturaland Trust, Tommy Wyche. Mr. Stanback said, "Our contribution not only helps protect the Nine Times property but also honors Tommy Wyche for his 40 years of providing vision and leadership in protecting tens of thousands of acres in the Blue Ridge Mountains along the North Carolina-South Carolina state line.”
In addition, Naturaland Trust and Upstate Forever reactivated a 5-year-old grant application with the South Carolina Conservation Bank. The bank’s board unanimously approved a $1.5 million grant for the property.
During this time, Duke Energy was negotiating the terms and conditions to be proposed for a new license for its Keowee-Toxaway Hydroelectric Project. As one of the conditions, Duke Energy recently provided $1,044,000 for the purchase of the Nine Times Forest.
The closing occurred just before the holidays, and Naturaland Trust is now the owner of the property.
Frank Holleman, president of Naturaland Trust, said: “The acquisition of the Nine Times Forest is an historic gift to the Upstate of South Carolina and the protection of our Blue Ridge Mountains. These 1,648 acres contain three mountains, beautiful mountain streams, and forest expanses. We now have protected 2,300 acres of connected forest, forever.”
The Nine Times Forest is one of the largest intact unprotected forests left in the Upstate region of South Carolina. Several years ago, about 560 acres were protected through a broad-based effort in which The Nature Conservancy, Naturaland Trust and Upstate Forever actively participated. That tract is now owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy. The Nine Times Forest adjoins The Nature Conservancy’s preserve. In 2012, Naturaland Trust acquired over 100 acres adjoining Nine Times Forest, providing an even larger natural area.
Brad Wyche, executive director of Upstate Forever, said: "This is a spectacular achievement for conservation in South Carolina, and an amazing team of public and private partners made it happen. We were honored to be on the team."
Naturaland Trust and its partners are now working on a management plan for the Nine Times Forest that will include sustainable forestry and passive recreational opportunities for the public. The property will be returned to the South Carolina Wildlife Management program for public hunting.