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Living on the Land, South Carolina Style

Photo Credit: Alan Cressler

Between its quiet blackwater rivers, pristine coastal beaches, sunny longleaf pine savannas, and dramatic mountains, the varied landscapes of South Carolina provide a rich assortment of outdoor opportunities to play, explore, and recharge.

“For South Carolinians, being on the land is more than just a daily pleasure – it’s a way of life,” says the Open Space Institute’s Michelle Sinkler, who has spent most of her adult life in South Carolina and is passing on her love of the outdoors to her children. “Whether we’re hiking, farming, hunting, or paddling, being on the land strengthens our connections to it.”

The dual pressures of relentless growth and the pandemic underscore the critical need for more publicly accessible land. Thankfully, OSI has found a niche in saving some of the state’s most special places – places for people to escape and families to build lifelong traditions.

To date, OSI has safeguarded more than 18,000 acres in just six years, creating and expanding countless opportunities for hikers, bikers, birders, hunters, anglers, and other recreationists across the state.

For many in South Carolina, hunting is very much a part of their outdoor heritage. Working with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, OSI will, in the coming months, add more than 1,800 acres to the Belfast Wildlife Management Area to enhance hunting opportunities in the Piedmont region.

These woods and wetlands, teeming with white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, bobwhite quail, Kentucky warblers, and American woodcock, offer a premier location for game hunting.

The addition also provides a key linkage between the Long Cane and Enoree Districts of the Sumter National Forest – increasing publicly available hunting and recreation land in the Saluda River Basin by 50 percent.

For those who prefer hiking to hunting, the Blue Ridge Mountain’s Table Rock State Park in the northeastern corner of the state is known for its popular swimming hole and panoramic views. But the character of the park was threatened when a timber company planned a housing development that would diminish the park’s inspiring views.

Working with a team of local partners, including the South Carolina Department of Transportation, the South Carolina Conservation Bank, Upstate Forever, and Naturaland Trust, OSI protected nearly 800 acres, ensuring the property remains undeveloped.

And in a big victory for Charleston area birders and bikers, OSI and the US Forest Service recently announced the protection of 1,450 acres within the Low Country’s Francis Marion National Forest. One of the forest’s last large inholdings, the property is less than a mile from the East Coast Greenway – a 3,000-mile biking and pedestrian corridor – and close to both the Wambaw Cycle Trail and the Walter Ezell Statewide Bike Touring Route.

But the Francis Marion, which is appreciated locally as the Charleston community’s backyard wilderness, offers something for every kind of outdoor enthusiast. With this, its seventh project at the Francis Marion, OSI has since 2014 added more than 8,100 acres to this beloved regional recreational destination.

The addition was completed with support from the Charleston County Greenbelt Program, its largest-ever acquisition, and the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.

“Improving the public’s access to the land is a core feature of OSI’s work here in South Carolina, and OSI has big plans for the future,” says OSI’s Sinkler, noting that projects are underway to expand paddling and hiking options along the Ashley, Black, and Waccamaw Rivers, while also prioritizing work within underserved communities, such as rural Jasper and Horry Counties and Charleston’s sea islands.

And for someone who has been active in South Carolina’s conservation movement for decades, OSI supporter and outdoor enthusiast Alys Campaigne, the acquisition underscores the value of building connections between people and the land. “By increasing access to these beautiful places, OSI is saving some of what makes South Carolina so special,” she says. “In the short term, OSI is helping to provide land that offers a much-needed respite from a hectic world. In the long term, it is inspiring a new generation of conservationists.”

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