Stories

A Watershed Moment for South Carolina (2022)

Within minutes of experiencing the pure beauty and serenity of ancient swamps that give way to towering pines and meandering blackwater streams teeming with wildlife, Nate Berry knew this place was magical.

“I was floored,” said Berry, OSI senior vice president, who oversees the organization’s conservation work in the Southeast. “I have walked almost every land type in South Carolina and throughout the region. But this place took my breath away. I knew right away it had to be protected.”

Berry understood that this land, precariously close to rapidly growing Bluffton, Hilton Head, and Beaufort and not far from traffic-choked US I-95, could soon fall victim to encroaching development.

But he also knew that it would take a massive effort to preserve the property’s 3,800 acres of mature upland longleaf pinelands interlaced with bottomland forests, cypress-tupelo swamps, an 11-mile stretch of the Coosawhatchie River and its tributaries, and a sand ridge that hosts more than 150 endangered gopher tortoises — one of the northernmost colonies in South Carolina and one of the largest in the eastern United States.

Located in Jasper County, South Carolina, the Slater property also serves as a land bridge linking the Ashepoo, Combahee, and Edisto (ACE) river basin with the Southern Lowcountry (SOLO) conservation focus area. Together, ACE and SOLO cover more than a tenth of South Carolina’s land area and constitute one of the largest undeveloped, ecologically intact regions on the East Coast.

In the late spring of 2021, OSI officially acquired the Slater property for $16 million, making the project among the largest conservation investments in state history. OSI intends to transfer the land to the state Department of Natural Resources as funding becomes available.

“The protection of Slater is not just a game changer. It is the game changer,” said Dr. Chris Marsh, who directs both the Spring Island Trust and The Lowcountry Institute. “OSI’s protection of the Slater tract is a huge win because it represents the first critical step in protecting the headwaters of the Port Royal Sound.”

That first step has already expanded into an OSI led watershed-level land protection effort, with the conservation of thousands of additional acres now well under way.

“Slater has proven to be a powerful catalyst for conservation and the protection of critical watersheds throughout the region,” says Berry. Working collaboratively with local officials, partners, and residents, he is as committed to delivering conservation results as the day he first experienced the splendor of Slater.

OSI’s protection of the Slater property was made possible through generous support from The Knobloch Family Foundation, the CWD3 Fund at the Coastal Community Foundation of South Carolina, The Nature Conservancy, Jasper County, and the Port Royal Sound Watershed Initiative.

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