Lake Wateree shoreline to become nature preserve

Once targeted for high-end resort development, miles of shorefront land on Lake Wateree will be turned into a state nature preserve open for hiking, fishing and hunting.

The S.C. Department of Natural Resources announced Monday that it was acquiring nearly half of the 3,452-acre Liberty Hill Farms tract as the agency moves to obtain the entire acreage in the next year.

The agency is buying 1,628 acres for $4.5 million from the Conservation Fund, a national land protection group that eventually plans to sell all of Liberty Hill Farms to the DNR, said the fund’s South Carolina director, Jason Johnson.

DNR officials hope to receive money in next year’s federal budget to buy the rest of the 3,452 acres at Lake Wateree. The acquisition is significant because it preserves valuable shoreline from development in a part of the state where public lake access is limited, officials said.

“Not only does this acquisition protect water quality and the scenic view shed, but it also provides the public with additional lands to enjoy outdoor recreational activities,’’ DNR director Alvin Taylor said.

In 2007, Greenwood Development Corp., one of the state’s most well-known developers, planned to build about 100 homes at Liberty Hill. Lots were expected to sell for $1.5 million and overlook Lake Wateree State Park.

But as the economy soured, the project no longer was possible and the property went back on the open market, Johnson said. The Conservation Fund struck a deal to buy the 3,452 acres late last year with the intent of transferring it to the DNR for protection, he said.

“Once Greenwood’s original plan was no longer possible and they put it back on the market, the fear was that whoever came into buy it would no longer’’ consider low density development, Johnson said. “The concern was they would be looking to max out the lake frontage for development.’’

The 3,452 acres of forest and meadows includes 14 miles of shoreline. The protected area would dwarf 238-acre Lake Wateree State Park, just across the lake. The land is about 20 minutes from Camden and includes acreage in Lancaster and Kershaw counties north of Columbia. The 1,628 acres being acquired by the DNR first includes about six miles of shoreline in Lancaster County.

Pine and hardwood forests, granite boulders and open meadows are on the property. The DNR says bald eagles, deer, wild turkeys and numerous wading birds inhabit the area.

A rare long-leaf pine forest also has been discovered at Liberty Hill. Longleafs are typically found in the coastal plain, rather than the hills north of Columbia. Some timber will be harvested from the property, the DNR said.

The DNR received a combination of state, local and federal money to make the purchase announced Monday. About $1.5 million of the $4.5 million came from the state Conservation Bank, an agency set up to protect open land.

Marvin Davant, director of the state Conservation Bank, said the acquisition is significant not only because of the land’s conservation values, but also because it is in the mid-section of the state.

“It’s unusual land to have that kind of water access, but it’s also in a part of the state where we don’t have a whole lot of parks, (wildlife management land) and public access,’’ Davant said.