Remember the last time you visited the extraordinary Angel Oak on Johns Island. Now picture your grandchildren taking their children there.
Thanks to the wisdom of the S.C. Conservation Bank, and the participation of public and private donors, the treasured Angel Oak park will be protected from much of the noise, lights and traffic that would have come with dense residential development adjacent to it. The bank agreed this week to grant $890,000 in matching funds toward the purchase of 17 acres that were on the way to being developed for about 350 housing units. It's the largest single grant made on behalf of the historic oak.
And with its grant, the Conservation Bank has also provided tremendous momentum for the Lowcountry Open Land Trust (LOLT) to negotiate the purchase of another adjacent 17 acres and keep it undeveloped also. That tract has been approved for just under 300 residential units.
Land Trust Director Elizabeth Hagood said one of the factors that appealed to the Conservation Bank was the diversity of Angel Oak supporters and the fact that thousands of people locally and across the country stepped up to help.
At a recent gathering, about 300 people — black, white, old, young, civil rights activists and simple picnickers — celebrated the tree, its history, its beauty and its meaning to the community. On a taped recording, the late Septima Clark, civil rights activist, said it was the only place on Johns Island that has never been segregated.
Mrs. Hagood is hopeful that donors will see this victory and move with confidence toward purchasing as much of the remaining tract as possible.
At this point, it isn't clear if the owner will agree to a sale or how much the property would command.
But the next fund-raising drive will start with almost $450,000 in the till. The purchase price for the first tract, which will be closed on in January, is $3.6 million.
Samantha Siegel, a scrappy Johns Islander who several years ago co-founded a group called “Save the Angel Oak,” helped raise the national profile of the amazing tree — and helped raise money for the expansion of the park acreage surrounding it. The project's success, she said, would be the high point of her life.
She is hardly alone in her enthusiasm. Mrs. Hagood said she knows of no other conservation project that has engendered such popular and governmental support. Perhaps a new wave of conservationists will come out of the effort.
Extending the Angel Oak Park to provide breathing room for the tree and room for walking trails and educational features is the kind of project that the Conservation Bank is designed to support.
It's good for the tree, of course, but it's also good for the environment. And it's good for generations who will continue to enjoy the Angel Oak's enduring majesty.
Earlier versions of this editorial had an incorrect first name and incorrect spelling of the last name for Samantha Siegel. The Post and Courier regrets the error.