A team effort of public and private partners have purchased an easement to conserve a 3,732-acre tract of the unique Ashley River district in the low-country of eastern South Carolina. Another 230 acres will be protected through the donation of a protective easement.
Funding of $3.1 million allowed the purchase of an easement on the acreage at the Middleton Place Woodlands. The donated easement will conserve lands at the Uxbridge Plantation.
A third of the funds were provided through a North America Wetlands Conservation Act, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Other contributors were Ducks Unlimited, landowner Charless Duell, Middleton Place L.L.C., the South Carolina Conservation Bank, and the Doris Duke Conservation Foundation.
The Lowcountry Open Lands Trust and The Nature Conservancy also assisted with the required legal transactions. Ducks Unlimited will monitor and enforce the easement.
"The Middleton Place Woodlands easement is an important part of the multi-year effort to protect South Carolina's Lowcountry," said Jason Johnson, South Carolina director for The Conservation Fund. "We are pleased to be a part of these efforts and are thankful to all the partners for working to protect the historic and scenic character of the Ashley River corridor in the face of development."
"The Conservation Fund worked with the owners of Middleton Place Woodlands to facilitate the placement of a conservation easement on this historic property, solidifying the family's generations-long commitment to preserving the property in its natural state while allowing only limited potential for future development."
"Located in the fastest growing county in South Carolina, the Ashley River historic district is considered one of the country's most endangered places," according to the Conservation Fund. "Three years ago, Ducks Unlimited began its Ashley River Historic District Project, an effort aimed at protecting critical habitat and undeveloped land between Charleston and Summerville. With the Middleton Place Woodlands easement and another easement recently secured by Ducks Unlimited on 2,441 acres of Millbrook Plantation, more than 12,000 acres have been protected within the historic district."
"This area consists of former rice plantations which are largely undeveloped and harbor important natural habitats including tidal, managed, and forested wetlands, as well as upland forests and agricultural areas. The area also has important historical and archeological sites which are relatively intact and well documented."
"The conservation easement placed on Uxbridge Plantation will protect approximately 64 acres of wetlands composed of bottomland hardwoods and approximately 166 acres of upland for a total of approximately 230 acres," according to the project summary for the NAWCA grant. "The Middleton Place Woodlands conservation easement will protect approximately 2,458 acres of wetland composed of approximately 2,420 acres of forested wetlands" and another 38 acres of other types of marsh.
There are about 1274 acres of upland habitat.
The "high-quality" habitats are utilized by Wild Turkey, Northern Bobwhite, and waterfowl such as the American Black Duck, Mallard and Wood Duck, the grant proposal says. Birds of high priority for conservation that occur are the Little Blue Heron, American Woodcock, Wood Thrush, and endangered species such as the Wood Stork, Red-cockaded Woodpecker, and Swallow-tailed Kite.
"We are always glad to be involved with projects like this one," said Craig LeSchack, Director of Conservation Programs for Ducks Unlimited. "Protecting areas through permanent easements is an excellent way to provide for future generations, and permanent protection of areas that are so historically and ecologically significant is exceptionally gratifying."
"Middleton Place is an icon in the historic plantation district and represents a special time in the history of South Carolina that typifies moss-draped cypress trees, wide verandas and a gentler way of life," said Marvin Davant, director of the South Carolina Conservation Bank. "It is a statement of our traditions and our heritage. It is important to the future of South Carolina to recognize the value of our past. The South Carolina Conservation Bank is pleased and honored that it could be a partner in conserving this wonderful property."
For the Duell Family, owners of the Middleton Place Woodlands, the project was an opportunity to preserve a unique heritage on a property that has been owned by family members for nearly 300 years.
"Our family is pleased to make possible these conservation easements that protect, in perpetuity, the rural character of the Historic Ashley River Plantation District," said Charles Duell. "With the Carter and Hanahan families placing similar easements on Millbrook and Uxbridge plantations, we have gone a long way to protecting the entire District from additional unwanted, high-density development."
The easements along Ashley River Road will help to "retain the historic atmosphere of the plantation district and protect the viewshed of this historic area for the public in addition to enforcing the urban growth boundary that the City of Charleston has attempted to establish through this area,"
Recreational hunters and boaters will also benefit by having the current land use maintained. Preservation of water quality is a third benefit provided by the easements.
The project partners in the area are working to conserve valuable habitats and open spaces as transitions in land use occur.
"A coalition of groups has worked together to make sure as much land as possible is retained in its natural condition and any development that occurs is consistent with the historic land uses of the plantation area," according to the federal grant summary. "The potential for development became greater in May, 2007 when the MeadWestvaco Corporation announced that it would begin planning for disposition of almost 400,000 acres of land in South Carolina, 70,000 of which is just west of Middleton Place. The protection of the Ashley River Historic District Properties creates a conservation corridor from the Ashley River through to the ACE Basin."