South Carolina’s Black River meanders through an otherworldly hardwood swamp of submerged bald cypress and tupelo gum. The majestic trees, some of them hundreds of years old, are reflected in mirror-smooth water. On any given day, you’re likely to see a flotilla of kids in brightly colored kayaks standing out against the dark river as they paddle downstream. The young kayakers are likely floating along the banks of an OSI-protected property while participating in a Butler Conservation Fund (BCF) outdoor education program.
Kayaking alongside with a careful eye is Gates Roll of Coastal Expeditions, a local outfitter operating an outdoor education program that has taken some 13,000 young people out onto the water since 2012.
“Lots of the kids we work with are very disconnected from the outside world,” says Roll. “One little girl almost jumped out of her kayak because a butterfly got stuck inside it, and she wasn’t sure if it was going to bite her. By the end of the trip, she was splashing and having fun. You see them get over that kind of fear, see it melt away, and it’s replaced by joy.”
The Black River project is emblematic of a thriving partnership between OSI and BCF that is taking conservation to the next level – by making spectacular, protected landscapes more inviting, accessible, and enjoyable to those who are unfamiliar with nature, and may even find it intimidating.
Learning by doing
There is a saying among environmentalists that you can only love what you know, and you can only know what you experience. A single kayak trip may be enough to give a young person an indelible taste of the beauty of the natural world, and new access points such as trail systems, paddling docks, and visitor centers, are the way to encourage an even deeper and more lasting attachment.
The Black River project is the latest outgrowth of the longstanding partnership between OSI and BCF that aims to build this attachment and grow an ethic of land protection. For OSI, a leader in protecting land for public enjoyment, the partnership builds on its park improvement initiative launched five years ago.
To date, the OSI-BCF partnership has grown dramatically in three locations: The Black River of South Carolina, in the town of Andrews; the East Branch of the Penobscot River in the central Maine Highlands region; and the Shawangunk Ridge, located just ninety minutes north of New York City, where OSI’s conservation leadership dates back more than a quarter-century. All three will be open to the public.