OSI’s Nate Berry remembers well when he realized that the Open Space Institute had become a recognized player in the South Carolina land conservation community.
It was 2014, two years after Nate had moved from OSI’s headquarters in New York City to set up shop in Charleston. Behind the scenes, he had been working quietly to tee up conservation deals that would safeguard the state’s storied blackwater rivers, intricate marsh coastlines, and stunning mountain panoramas.
Now, a breakthrough had arrived, in the conservation of the 2,200-acre Fairlawn project — a property coveted for a decade for its longleaf pine habitat. News broke of the deal, and of OSI’s role securing a top conservation target. “Soon I was in frequent conversation with the state’s conservation leaders and agencies, to figure out how to best utilize OSI to advance conservation in the region,” Nate recalls.
Over a short five-year period in South Carolina, OSI has grown from one person to five on-the-ground staffers. The team has infused new energy into collaborations with more than 30 partners — while protecting more than 14,000 acres through some 50 transactions.
The work is critical for a state whose population has skyrocketed 25 percent to more than five million — a trend that is only expected to continue. To manage this unprecedented growth, the state has redoubled focus on landscape-scale conservation and public access.
“OSI understands the long-term conservation vision of South Carolina, and is effective in protecting threatened, ecologically significant places,” says State Senator Chip Campsen, whose political district includes the Fairlawn property. “We call OSI when we need a group that can move quickly, and has expertise on intractable conservation projects, because we know they can get the job done.”
Illustrating OSI’s expertise in closing deals is a pair of successful projects along two major rivers.
The first is along the Cooper River Corridor, home to prehistoric fossils, unique ecology, and artifacts from early Native Americans and European colonists. When an effort to protect a key property in the corridor stalled, the state turned to OSI for help. Now, the 600-acre “Lewisfield” property will be opened to the public as a wildlife preserve.
To the north of Cooper River lies the Black River, whose tide-driven, forested wetlands are among the most popular paddling destinations in the state. For years, conservationists and the local community had wanted to restore a once-vibrant park along the river. In 2016, OSI negotiated a deal to secure the 462-acre property and create Rocky Point Community Forest — the Lowcountry’s first public, passive recreation park of its kind.
Spurred on by these and other successes, OSI is taking up additional challenges head-on — particularly around securing strategic floodplain properties that will buffer coastal and low-lying communities from sea level rise caused by a changing climate.
“As we look to the future of land protection both on the coast and inland, it’s critical to be able to respond to challenges, build coalitions, and act strategically,” says Nate. “OSI’s flexibility and responsiveness make us well positioned to protect the land that matters most here in South Carolina.”