Unusual land to be preserved in SC mountains

sfretwell@thestate.comJanuary 17, 2014 

— Conservationists are celebrating the recent acquisition of a long-overlooked slice of mountain land at the foot of the southern Appalachians.

The more than 1,600 acres is part of the Nine Times tract along S.C. 11 just south of the Jocassee Gorges nature preserve in Pickens County.

Nine Times is a rare stretch of low mountains that is a transition zone between the Appalachians and the rolling Piedmont of South Carolina.

Brad Wyche, director of Upstate Forever, said the property should be of interest to people statewide. Many visitors to the mountains have whizzed past the Nine Times area on their way to the Blue Ridge, but he and Naturaland Trust president Frank Holleman said people now have a reason to stop, since the land will be open to the public for the first time.

“It’s unique because the topography is sort of sub-Blue Ridge, but above the Piedmont,’’ Wyche said after a meeting of conservationists in Columbia this week. “It really is a bridge between those two areas.’’

As opposed to the Blue Ridge in South Carolina, which can reach up to 3,500 feet, the tallest mountain in Nine Times is about 1,800 feet.

The area includes hardwood forests, rocky outcroppings, black bear habitat and rare plants. It’s one of the only places in the state with a breeding population of northern ravens and one of the few spots where wild yucca and cactus plants are found on unspoiled granite mountainsides. At least 134 species of native South Carolina wildflowers can be found there.

Now owned by the Naturaland Trust, the 1,648 acres brings the size of the Nine Times protected area to more than 2,300 acres. The Nature Conservancy and other conservation groups protected a 560-acre chunk of the area about seven years ago. Another 100 acres also has since been acquired.

In the latest land deal, environmental groups acquired the land from Crescent Communities for $3.5 million and announced the agreement earlier this week. The property at one time was owned by a division of Duke Energy.

Upstate conservationists had worked for more than a decade to acquire the land before it could be developed. At one time, some of the land was actively being marketed for sale to developers.

Upstate Forever, the Naturaland Trust, conservationists Fred and Alice Stanback, and the state Conservation Bank were major players in the land deal. The Conservation Bank contributed $1.5 million, while Duke Energy, as part of a relicensing agreement for dams it operates in the area, contributed $1 million.

“We’re thrilled to support the preservation of this spectacular land,” said Steve Jester, Duke Energy vice president of water strategy, hydro licensing and lake services.

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