Rutledge family ensures protection of land in the Francis Marion National Forest
CHARLESTON - More than 1,200 acres in the heart of Francis Marion National Forest will be protected from development after the descendants of outdoor writer Archibald Rutledge granted a conservation easement to The Nature Conservancy.
Conservationists said the tract's protection is a step forward in the race to preserve private land in the forest and restore the area's longleaf pine ecosystem.
The land is roughly twice the size of James Island County Park and is next to Hampton Plantation. It's one of the larger private holdings inside the national forest's boundaries and home to endangered plants and birds.
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The Nature Conservancy acquired the easement Thursday with the help of Charleston County's Greenbelt Fund, which chipped in $700,000.
In such arrangements, landowners forgo future development rights in return for payment.
This is a major contribution in the effort to protect the national forest in Charleston County," said Michael Prevost, the conservancy's Sewee to Santee project director.
Rutledge was a South Carolina poet laureate who wrote more than 50 books and contributed to Field & Stream and Outdoor Life magazines. He also owned Hampton Plantation, a Colonial-era home and National Historic Landmark near McClellanville.
Rutledge, recognizing the brevity of life, once said of his home, "I, too, am but a visitor here. I am trying to be a considerate guest." He died in 1973 and deeded the home to the state, spurring the creation of a state historic site. The home and grounds are open to the public.
Land around the plantation's grounds, however, wasn't protected.
Rutledge's grandchildren have long agreed the area should remain in its natural state, said Donald T. Rutledge, adding, "We're really alarmed with the growth of Mount Pleasant and Awendaw, and for better or worse, we did our part to put a roadblock in the path of future developers."
The other heirs involved in the easement include: Henry Middleton Rutledge; Eleanor R. Lesher of Chapel Hill, N.C.; and Elise R. Bradford of Windermere, Fla.
Conservationists and planners say solidifying the Francis Marion National Forest is key to curbing sprawl and creating a greenbelt around the Charleston metro area.
On many maps, the Francis Marion looks like a solid green dam holding back the urbanized areas of Mount Pleasant. But these maps don't show the more than 130,000 acres of privately owned land inside the national forest boundaries.
Instead, the national forest is more like Swiss cheese, with the cheese holes representing private holdings. About 5,850 people live on these holdings in nine towns and dozens of smaller communities.
More people are headed there every year, and the Forest Service has little or no control over how this private land is developed.
Conservationists, planners and emergency officials worry new residential developments in the forest could make it difficult to do controlled burns, and without frequent burns, endangered species will vanish and the threat of catastrophic wildfires will grow.