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Year in Review 2023: Strengthening Communities

Image Credit: True Capture Studios

As we continue to grow an inclusive conservation movement, OSI remains committed to strengthening and supporting communities in urban and rural landscapes, and the protection of land that preserves and upholds our nation’s heritage and cultural treasures.

In 2023, OSI’s work spanned the Eastern U.S. in tandem with a variety of partners.

The OSI-led Black River Initiative in South Carolina continues to thrive. This year, OSI helped secure $4.6 million in federal funding to create and expand three local parks along the 70-mile-long riverine park network. Additionally, OSI worked with Indigenous communities in the region on a new and innovative partnership to apply traditional ecological knowledge to land management at several of the Black River Initiative parks. Efforts to honor and uplift and reconnect communities to the river have not gone unnoticed: the Black River Initiative Master Plan was honored with a top accolade by the Southeast Region of the American Society of Landscape Architects for its thoughtful and community-driven process. Finally, the Black River project received major year-end boosts from the acquisition of 1,800 acres along the river and a grant from The Boeing Company to jumpstart local economic revitalization efforts.

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Enjoying a sunset paddle on the Black River, site of OSI's innovative Black River Initiative.
Image Credit: Mac Stone

Also in South Carolina, OSI partnered to acquire a small, significant, and long-sought property that will serve as the future home of the Plantersville Cultural Complex (PCC). The PCC will be a vibrant community hub with opportunities to shine a light on the Gullah-Geechee communities that have called this region home for centuries.

In nearby Georgetown County, OSI added nearly 240 acres to the Waccamaw National Wildlife Complex, expanding OSI’s previous land transfer at Hasty Point Plantation for a total of more than 1,000 acres—enhancing opportunities for public access, environmental education, and historical interpretation of the former rice plantation. With this new addition, the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge embarked on a master plan to improve public access and develop concepts for future programming.

In New Jersey, OSI celebrated progress toward the development of the Northern New Jersey Greenway. The acquisition of the project was led by OSI. Today, the former railbed is closer to becoming a nine mile linear park that will bring green spaces and recreation opportunities to some of the most densely-populated communities in the nation. In nearby New York, OSI fulfilled a long-term conservation objective for Columbia County’s Kinderhook Creek Corridor through the transfer of land to help achieve the goals of the National Park Service by safeguarding the viewshed of the Martin Van Buren National Historic Site and protecting the agrarian character of the county.

Over the course of the year, OSI supported additional projects honoring and upholding Indigenous connections to the land. In New Jersey, OSI supported the transfer of land to the Native American Advancement Corporation (NAAC), officially returning property for Indigenous stewardship and management. In South Carolina, OSI joined a unique public-private partnership to protect nearly 600 acres from development and ensure the Catawba Nation has perpetual access to and co-management of the active Nisbet clay pit on the land, a resource continually used by the Nation for more than 6,000 years. And in Maine, OSI’s Transborder Fund helped to permanently protect a pristine sea island between the coasts of northeastern Maine and southeastern Canada, securing an important migratory bird stopover and permanently facilitating access to the property by the Peskotomuhkati First Nation at Skutik peoples.

OSI also continues to invest in young leaders through our Conservation Diversity Fellowship program. OSI was pleased to welcome Michio Agresta, a graduate of the University of Connecticut, and Toluwalase (Ennie) Akinwunmi, a University of Penn alum who is the recipient of OSI’s new two-year fellowship, thanks to a partnership with the Environmental Leadership Program.

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