After more than 30 years of leading kayak and boat tours outside Charleston, South Carolina, Chris Crolley never tires of seeing his clients awed by the beauty of nature. “I can tell them about a pelican all day long, but until they see one splash with a big fish in its beak…then they are moved,” he says. “Experiences like that keep me in business.”
As a small-business owner whose livelihood depends on clean air and clean water, Crolley was enthusiastic to hear that the headwaters of the Wando River, where he leads his tours, had been permanently protected by the Open Space Institute. Conservation of the Fairlawn Plantation property on the banks of the Wando, just outside of Charleston, fulfills one of the area’s singularly important conservation goals: protection of the Francis Marion National Forest and its longleaf pine ecosystem.
With a thick carpet of pine needles, and the sun streaking through its tall, straight longleaf pine trees, a walk through the Francis Marion is enchanting. Beyond the allure of its natural beauty, the 290,000-acre forest is also critical in the effort to protect and restore the longleaf pine habitat, one of the most biodiverse and threatened ecosystems in North America. A fire-dependent ecosystem, the Francis Marion is home to more than 400 species of mammals, birds, and reptiles; and approximately 1,600 species of plants.
The newly conserved parcel is the latest of OSI’s five Fairlawn conservation projects totaling more than 6,000 acres. Not so long ago, Fairlawn — located less than five minutes from Mount Pleasant, one of the fastest growing municipalities on the East Coast — had been in danger of being subdivided and developed. Rallying to action, OSI worked with local partners and devised a multi-year plan to preserve this critical landscape.
“OSI’s success with our partners in conserving Fairlawn and protecting the Francis Marion National Forest came out of our commitment to the unique and endangered landscape, our transactional experience, our partnerships, and our ability to identify the funds to make it happen,” explains Nate Berry, senior vice president for OSI who manages the organization’s South Carolina program. “Plus,” he adds, “we’re resourceful.”
The story of OSI’s protection efforts in the Francis Marion is the culmination of a years-long effort — and the use of innovative conservation strategies and funding sources that have garnered a succession of land-protection victories benefitting communities throughout South Carolina.
In the South Carolina Lowcountry, OSI has been at the center of many major conservation projects and is working with local agencies and partners to protect natural resources in a region where development pressures are high.
The OSI projects “are a conservation ‘win’ in the truest sense,” says Rick Lint, forest supervisor for the Francis Marion National Forest. “With the pace of growth in this region, we need to be able to secure funding and move quickly to save critical landscapes. OSI has been able to save the most threatened places, just in time, using innovative funding strategies and collaborative partnerships.”