A More Strategic Approach to Land Conservation

The accelerating pace of development is threatening important green spaces and natural habitats throughout Aiken County as well as within the city of Aiken. We all see the rise of high-density housing developments around the County and experience the backup of traffic on Whiskey Road.

In this environment, it has never been more important for the Aiken Land Conservancy to take a more prominent role in conserving the natural beauty that makes this place so special.
We are not anti-development but, rather, believe in “smart development”: which seeks wherever possible to preserve and protect the natural beauty of this area along with important natural habitats.

Given this, Aiken Land Conservancy recently formed a Strategic Lands Committee. The goal of this committee is help ALC become more proactive in its conservation efforts. We want to focus on geographic areas with high conservation value and where there are substantial existing conserved properties – to build a critical mass of protected lands in these areas.

Going forward, we identified four target geographic areas to focus our future conservation efforts:

  1. Savannah River Corridor: The focus here is to protect natural habitat along the river, building upon existing large protected and managed properties (i.e., Savannah River Site and Silver Bluff Audubon Sanctuary). This area is already home to intact bottomland forest and is a sanctuary for migrating birds and other wildlife. There are many large properties in this area that could be protected from development, some of which are currently managed for timber. Our goal is to expand the protected land under management in this area creating a natural corridor along the river between SRS and North Augusta (which could also enhance the experience of residents and visitors that kayak on the river).
  2. Shaws Creek/Edisto Corridor: The Edisto is the longest undammed black water river in the Eastern U.S. and provides an important natural habitat for countless birds and many endangered fish species, such as the Atlantic sturgeon. Protecting the water here is also critical to maintaining the health of this waterway and its marshlands in the LowCountry. We recently established protection of two large land holdings along Shaws Creek, an important feeder to the Edisto (i.e., Shaws Creek Preserve and Eureka Preserve) – but there is much more to be done to extend these protections and create a high value conservation corridor
  3. 78/302 Corridor: The development pressures in Aiken County are highest to the south, east and north of the City of Aiken. The area to the east of the city still largely maintains its historic rural character as a home to large equestrian properties and farms. We also have multiple existing conservation easements in this area which provides a platform for expansion. Our goal here is to protect these open spaces, thereby maintaining the equestrian and rural character of this part of the County.
  4. City of Aiken: The natural beauty and historic equestrian character of the City of Aiken is what attracts many newcomers to this area and is a driver of both property values and visitor economic activity. We are committed to work with the city to preserve the natural beauty along city-owned parkways and byways and to seek opportunities to protect historic properties and equestrian venues in the city (e.g., Training Track). This includes current discussions with the City and Aiken Streetscapes (our partner in protecting tress in the city) to replace trees and improve landscaping at Smith-Hazel Park and along nearby parkways.

Our plan is to reach out proactively to large landowners in each of these target areas to discuss the value of conserving their properties. Where we can, we will involve neighboring conservation easement holders in these conversations and explain how combining their property with already-protected land can help create a “conservation corridor” that has a multiplicative effect on the health of wildlife populations while conserving the intact natural beauty of these areas.

In some cases, we can also offer financial assistance to defer some of the “up front” costs associated with land conservation. This includes applying for grants to defer these costs as well as using our own (limited) endowment funds. However, the use of these resources will be limited to those opportunities with the highest conservation value and where the landowner is not able to move forward without this support.

Of course, we will continue to pursue conservation projects outside these four target areas but these opportunities will be pursued more opportunistically (when we are approached by a landowner who has a high value property). It is important that we use our limited human and financial resources where they can have the greatest impact.

We look forward to your support as we pursue this more strategic approach to land conservation in Aiken County. Please reach out to us with comments on this plan as well as with your ideas on how you can help.