Advocacy and the Aiken Land Conservancy

The Aiken Land Conservancy (ALC) is a non-profit organization defined by its mission, which is “to preserve Aiken’s unique character and natural and historic resources for present and future generations through advocacy and land protection.” The ALC is led by a board of trustees who volunteer their time and their personal resources to advance this mission and who are supported by a small but dedicated staff. So, how do we make things happen?

ALC has no legal authority or commercial power to implement its agenda. We can create conservation easements with the cooperation of landowners and that is important in preserving open space and protecting land. But with respect to the larger issues; for example, to help to ensure the long-term viability of our water resources, we have to look to other means.

Advocacy is at the core of our ability to influence and support actions and decisions by federal and local governments and other public institutions that will advance our mission. Advancing our program relies on the dedication of our members and staff to becoming more engaged and developing the expertise to be advocates at many levels of government.

The ALC structure works through standing committees whose function is to develop expertise in certain areas and to develop ways to implement actions and programs that support those objectives. For example, the Strategic Lands Committee has defined areas throughout the County where ALC believes it is important and also doable to protect open space. Much of ALC’s focus in regard to protecting open space is connected to concerns about water and to keeping this vital resource both pristine and abundant. So how does a non-profit without commercial or legal status accomplish this end? Advocacy is the trump card.

Through focused and consistent attention to what is going on with the City of Aiken and Aiken County, ALC has been able to play a pivotal role in protecting the 2,658-acre Shaws Creek Preserve and, in turn, our community’s water resources. We do that by working with community resources like the South Carolina Conservation Bank to garner funds in support of the City’s program and by seeking grant funding from targeted public and governmental entities such as The Nature Conservancy and International Paper. This advocacy is a large part of ALC’s work and represents our efforts “on behalf of” the City or the County. It brings support to City and County programs and objectives by leveraging our resources of people and their expertise.

Advocacy can be a powerful tool. As Aiken County renews its 10-year Comprehensive Plan this year, the ALC will be advocating for an emphasis on measures that further protect the natural resources of our community. Might we, for example, advocate for a tax dedicated to supporting conservation efforts? Other communities have enacted such programs. We believe that Aiken is a jewel – a place that nurtures our citizens through its natural landscape and lovely historic character. As more and more people come here to enjoy those qualities, we must be aware that they are fragile and advocate strongly for protection so that our valuable and scarce resources do not disappear. Advocacy is critical and, as our President Larry Comegys would say, is an important tool in our tool box.