Nearly 2.5 miles of Congaree River frontage in Calhoun County across from Congaree National Park is among 19 projects approved for funding by the S.C. Conservation Bank last week.
The 19 projects also include the 61-acre meadow off S.C. 11 often seen in the foreground of photos of Table Rock, four tracts that add 5,400 acres to the Savannah River Preserve in Hampton County and 405 acres in the viewshed of the High Hills Passage of the Palmetto Trail in Sumter County.
In Calhoun County, the High Creek tract, which is about 1,670 acres, is upstream from the 200-acre Congaree Bluffs Heritage Preserve.
Together, they will protect from industrial or residential development the land across the river from a large section of the national park, according to the Congaree Land Trust.
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The land trust will administer the easement on the Calhoun County property, along with easements on the 405 acres along the Palmetto Trail near Sparkleberry Swamp in Sumter County and 431 acres of prime waterfowl habitat in Clarendon County.
“We’re happy to have these three tracts to protect some of our valuable viewsheds in the Midlands,” said Mary Crockett of Congaree Land Trust.
The Conservation Bank’s board approved spending money for new easements last week for the first time since 2008, when funding for the agency was put on hold during the recession. The agency received $2 million last year, and full funding of $7.5 million was restored this year.
The Conservation Bank is funded by a portion of documentary stamp fees paid on property purchases. While it can purchase property outright, the bank more often works with local groups to purchase conservation easements. With easements, landowners maintain possession of the property but they give up the right to develop the land. That allows protection with minimal cost to the state.
The 19 new easements approved last week protected 10,320 acres for $4.9 million, or about $438 per acre. The Grant Meadow tract in front of Table Rock was the most expensive easement at $2,054 per acre.
Last week, the bank board also voted to spend the $2 million from last year on projects approved before its funding was cut off. That includes 122 acres upstream of Chau Ram Park, which will allow expansion of the park in Westminster, according to Dana Leavitt of Upstate Forever.
The funding approval isn’t the final step in the process. Landowners still must agree to the easements. Because some of the easements were proposed years ago, some land owners might have changed their minds.