VIDEO: Wateree Heritage Preserve
A national conservation group has purchased 780 acres in eastern Richland County for the expected expansion of a state nature preserve along the Wateree River.
The Conservation Fund’s $2.8 million acquisition, finalized last month, includes open farmland, duck ponds, swamps, three miles of river frontage and an island in the Wateree River.
Plans are to resell the land to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources and make it part of the Wateree River Heritage Preserve next door, according to the DNR and the Conservation Fund.
“It is gorgeous property,’’ the Conservation Fund’s Jason Johnson said. “They have some fields that could be made use of for turkey hunting and dove fields, a lot of forested property, and upland and wetland forests.’’
According to the DNR, the land will be used primarily for shooting sports and public hunting, including activities for children and teenagers.
Alvin Taylor, the wildlife department’s director, said his agency will consider providing broader public access after establishing the hunting grounds.
“We’re all about public access,’’ Taylor said Wednesday. “A lot of the focus of that property is going to be toward the youth. That goes from a shooting sports center to youth hunts we’ll start to have out there. Then, we’ll reassess to see what other availability will be there for a larger source of public access.’’
The Conservation Fund acquired the land from the Love family, long-time residents of eastern Richland County.
While management plans for the property are still developing, Johnson said the acquisition is significant because it will preserve more land in the Cowasee Basin, a vast, multi-county area south and east of Columbia that has been targeted for preservation.
Land already protected in the basin includes the 27,000-acre Congaree National Park, Poinsett State Park, Manchester State Forest and Sparkleberry Swamp. The 780 acres acquired by the Conservation Fund are about 10 miles upstream from Congaree, the state’s only national park.
Since 2015, South Carolina also has opened the 3,700-acre Wateree River Heritage Preserve. The state established the preserve after acquiring Goodwill Plantation and Cook’s Mountain, an iconic land formation, as compensation for a gold mine in Lancaster County. Cook’s Mountain, which rises high above the inner coastal plain, was a centerpiece of the deal.
The land acquired by the Conservation Fund is near the intersection of Van Boklen Road and U.S. 378 along the Wateree River at the Sumter County line not far from Eastover.
Active in land protection in South Carolina for decades, the Conservation Fund is a national organization that often buys land and holds the property until government natural resources agencies can acquire it. The fund has helped protect property around Lake Wateree north of Columbia and the Jocassee Gorges, a nature preserve in the mountains that includes the state’s highest peak.
Emily Cope, a deputy director at the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, said the DNR, which manages the Wateree preserve, expects to use a combination of federal money and some revenue the department has on hand to buy the property..
Johnson and Larry Faulkenberry, who sold part of Goodwill Plantation for the Wateree River Heritage Preserve, said it’s unlikely the property acquired from Love Farms LLC would be developed anytime soon because it is in a remote, rural part of Richland County.
But over time, the land, with its river frontage, could become prime for development as Lower Richland grows southeast from Columbia, officials said.
“The land you get today will be protected tomorrow when it becomes more valuable,’’ Johnson said.