The Sylvia Cullum Whitney Preserve

In December of 2022, the Aiken Land Conservancy and Eureka Partners (consisting of three brothers: Ray Bradford Whitney, Jr., George Bell Timmerman Whitney, Colwell Cullum Whitney) closed on a conservation easement protecting 611 acres of undeveloped land in Eureka, a small city located in the northern reaches of Aiken County. The property has been family-owned and responsibly managed as an active timber farm for thirty years by local professional forester extraordinaire, Lee Rhodes. Over the years, the farming operation produced the income to send the Whitney children to college, says one of the partners proudly. In fact, the partners plan to delegate the management of the Preserve to the next generation, Catherine Whitney, daughter of Colwell Whitney. Very cool stuff. We look forward to working with Catherine as the next family steward of this lovely and ecologically important property.

Named the Sylvia Cullum Whitney Preserve after their mother, Sylvia, the partners have stewarded a property with extraordinary conservation values. The Preserve is bounded on one side by a mile of frontage on Shaws Creek, which is a critical source of drinking water for the City of Aiken. In addition, the Preserve borders on the City’s Mason’s Branch Tract, almost 2600 acres of undeveloped land that includes Shaws Creek and its primary tributaries, Boggy Branch and Masons Branch (the Shaws Creek watershed drains into the Edisto River, the longest unimpeded blackwater river in the Country). The combination of the Preserve, the Reynolds Preserve to the north (protected by the Central Savannah River Land Trust), the Masons Branch Tract, and the City- owned properties around Reynolds Pond (to name a few) provide a significant corridor of undeveloped green space along Shaws Creek. This green infrastructure provides natural pre-treatment of drinking water processed by the City’s Shaws Creek water treatment plant (WTP) and serves to reduce operating costs at the WTP.

The permanent protection of the Preserve not only expands the riparian buffer along Shaws Creek, but also helps protect the overlapping recharge zones for the region’s four major groundwater aquifers—the Floridan, the Crouch, the Gordon, and the McQueen—which provide water for residents throughout the coastal plain of SC. Conservation of this beautiful property ensures that
it will never be threatened by high density residential, commercial, or industrial development.

Eureka Partners sold the conservation easement to ALC in a bargain sale transaction, which means the development rights were sold for a fraction of the appraised value of the easement. ALC applied to the South Carolina Conservation Bank for grant funds to pay for the easement, which was approved in October 2022.

The Sylvia Cullum Whitney Preserve is the largest easement in ALC’s diverse portfolio of conservation holdings. It is also the second Shaws Creek conservation easement held by ALC in accordance with the City’s Upper Shaws Creek Voluntary Conservation Program. ALC will continue to identify new conservation opportunities along Shaws Creek to increase the green corridor and protect the City’s water supply.

ALC is proud to be part of this growing collection of protected properties defending the quality of Aiken’s drinking water and protecting an ecologically diverse watershed.

Photos by Ginny Southworth