With Lee and Roger Dane: Edisto Farm Reserve
Why a conservation easement? A tax deduction. That was nice, too. But for us the main incentive was permanent protection of the core of our beautiful farm.
What have we protected? 277 acres of South Edisto River, adjacent flood plain ponds, steep banks and upland, containing a myriad of microhabitats and associated plant and animal treasures. We tailored the easement very precisely as we wanted it to be. What rights did we keep? We can cut dead trees for firewood, timber (with a South Carolina forester’s approved plan) the few pine stands in the easement, walk the trails and hunt as long as the farm is in single ownership, the latter to prevent poaching and to keep Bambi from eating the floral treasures that mean so much to us
What else? First, the magnificent white oaks that dot the slopes throughout the easement. The spring sunlight sifting through the new green dapples understory dogwoods, redbuds and wildflowers, while the gold-turning leaves in the fall are heart-stopping. They will never be cut. Those same oaks, plus a multitude of other tree and understory species create habitat for the neo-tropical migrants we love, and serve as nesting sites for 5 of the 8 warblers that are in trouble in South Carolina. There are native black walnuts downstream, a particularly slow-growing species that will never be cut. The now-uncommon bottomland hardwoods support some of our favorite birds (those nesting warblers again, plus the Northern Wood-Thrush) and sheets of kalmia and wild azaleas, five different species at last count. Again, this habitat will never be cut. Because it’s flood plain, it also holds and releases slowly those major floods that happen all too seldom now as over-use and global warming reduce the river’s flows.
Is all of the easement forested? Not at all. There are many acres of old-field succession that we’ve retained the right to return to pasture if we choose. The half-grown fields house a full suite of birds that give us joy when we tire of the trill of the Wood Thrush or the “What’s with you” of the Hooded Warbler. There are several ponds. One of these we manage for endangered Wood Storks. They come in summer when the youngsters range wide looking for summer feeding grounds. We release the water slowly over three months, letting all the waders and shore birds gorge on fish and crawdads. What a joy to look down and see 50 or 100 Wood Storks clacking along beside egrets, herons, ibises and all the smaller shorebirds that love the mud!
Scenic wonders? Well, not Niagara, but there is the only waterfall on the South Edisto River. It’s glorious in full spate, and creates a good swimmin’ hole where we can dip in with the water moccasins when the water is down.
Historic sites? A Gregory family cemetery where the stones of parents and children date back to the early 1860s, and unmarked graves are earlier than that. And the stills … this valley was known as Bootleg Hollow. We’ve probably found 50 stills over the years, and we aren’t done yet. The oldest were located by the steel hoops that bound old oak barrels. Later ones include 50-gallon drums and glass canning jars or gallon jugs, and the most recent stills used 1,000-gallon tanks and sold liquor in plastic Clorox bottles. And we have a wealth of bootlegger tales.
Is it worth it? We’ve given up some timber income, and some future development potential. But we know the things we love the most about this farm will always be there. It is so worth it to us that we plan to expand the easement in the not too distant future. It’s worth it indeed.