Two Upstate land conservation groups took an important step last week in gaining protective control of 1,600 acres of unique Pickens County woodlands.
The Naturland Trust and upstate Forever received notification that they will receive a $400,000 grant from the U.S. Forest Service to help protect the Nine Times Forest along the Scenic Highway 11 corridor in the northern part of the county.
The groups endeavor is to protect the property from major commercial and residential development and make it available for outdoor activities from camping and hiking to hunting and fishing.
“Our preferred outcome is for it to be made available for some public use,” Brad Wyche of UpState Forvever said Tuesday.
No one knows what the outcome will be, however. The ultimate outcome is yet to be determined, but Wyche said that private donors, the SC Department of Natural Resources, The SC Forestry Commission and SC Parks, Recreation and Tourism are all being discussed as potential partners.
The funding is part of a matching grant program from the Forest Service that last week announced $3.5 million in grants as part of a new program to support jobs and healthy forests in communities across the U.S.
The Community Forest and Open Space Conservation Program provides financial assistance grants to local governments, tribes and qualified nonprofit organizations working to establish community forests with a focus on economic and environmental benefits, education, forest stewardship and recreation opportunities.
The federal grants will be matched with an additional $8.5 million in funding from other partners on the projects, and represent a strategic investment in local communities, a key component of the President’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative.
“These truly are community forests: envisioned by the local community, supported by the local community and it is the local community who will reap the economic and environmental benefits,” said Agriculture Under Secretary Harris Sherman. “This program will give thousands of Americans better access to the great outdoors, while fostering the next generation of American conservationists.”
All projects must ensure public access to the protected lands, and the communities must be involved in the process of developing a forest plan and determining long-term goals for the forests. Implementing the Community Forest Program is a priority in the President’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative, and supports the creation, expansion and enhancement of community green spaces.
A Forest Service press release describes the $400,000 allocation to the Nine Times Community Forest as helping secure one of the largest, most biologically significant tracts in the upstate of South Carolina, in Pickens County. As one of the three largest unprotected forest blocks left in the Blue Ridge Escarpment region of South Carolina, 1,648-acre Nine Times Community Forest supports seven major forest types and provides a lush habitat for the black bear, ruffed grouse and peregrine falcons. Populations of whitetail deer, wild turkeys and trout draw sportsmen from all over the state. Acquisition of this forest will provide an opportunity to demonstrate sustainable forest-management techniques and offer educational programs through partnerships with school groups and area universities. This project, and the nearby North Carolina, Hall Mountain project, support the objectives of the America’s Great Outdoors focus area for the southeast.
Wyche described the property as unique because it is a transition area between the mountains and the Piedmont.