Driving along US Highway 17, the transition from the rapidly developing areas of West Ashley, Johns Island and Ravenel to the open forest and marsh lands of the ACE Basin is dramatic. Thanks to a conservation-minded partnership effort, commuters on the Savannah Highway will have a new park to enjoy, and the Lowcountry will have 638 additional acres of protected open space.
“This project serves to protect the gateway to the ACE Basin,” said Charles Lane, chairman of the ACE Basin Task Force, which supported the work. “As people enter the Basin on Highway 17, a public park will greet them.”
The ACE Basin – where the Ashepoo, Combahee and Edisto rivers meet – is home to a decades-old conservation effort to create one of the largest protected estuaries on the east coast. Through the ACE Basin partnership efforts, more than 261,000 acres have been protected in perpetuity. Soon the public will enjoy more than 600 of those protected acres.
“The open areas are available for passive recreational uses, which will be determined through a master planning process. We will also conduct forest stewardship and explore opportunities for habitat enhancements within the park,” said Director of Planning and Resource Management for Charleston County Park & Recreation Commission (CCPRC) Julie Hensley.
A partnership controlled by WestRock, the current owner of Spring Grove and a longtime supporter of Ducks Unlimited, sold a portion of the property at a favorable price to make the park possible.
Thanks to a grant from the South Carolina Conservation Bank, Ducks Unlimited is putting the land under conservation easement with its foundation, Wetlands America Trust. The CCPRC is buying the land in a simultaneous closing with funding from the Charleston County Greenbelt Program.
“The easement is significant for several reasons,” said Justin Park, Ducks Unlimited conservation lands coordinator. “Spring Grove was zoned at one time for up to 900 units. Now there will never be subdivision or houses built here. Instead, the area will serve as a county park, greeting visitors to the ACE Basin with walking trails and pristine natural areas.”
The Spring Grove easement protects a mile-long forested buffer along US17 and a significant, 100-acre bottomland hardwood swamp. With a conservation easement to the north, there is potential for connected trails across a wider region.
“During the development of the Charleston County Comprehensive Greenbelt Plan, the citizens listed protecting the county’s rural areas as a top priority for the Greenbelt Program,” said Greenbelt Programs Department Director for Charleston County Cathy Ruff. “A goal was set to protect more than 16,000 acres of rural lands. Charleston County Council’s approval of Greenbelt funding for the purchase of the Spring Grove property provides the citizens with an additional 638 acres of rural lands that will be protected forever and open for the public to enjoy.”