MOUNT PLEASANT -- One of the largest parks in Charleston County is proposed for a heavily developed area off S.C. Highway 41, a move that would open to the public a densely wooded expanse of nature amid sprawling subdivisions.
The Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission wants to lease Laurel Hill Plantation for walking, running and biking trails on 781 acres, said PRC Executive Director Tom O'Rourke.
If the deal goes through, a lease agreement between PRC and plantation trustee Wachovia/Wells Fargo would be finalized March 31, he said.
"We think it's going to happen," O'Rourke said.
The property is one of the most historic in the area and would require a detailed archaeological survey, he said.
When the plantation would open to the public is a "tough call." It's possible some events would be held on the property this summer, he said.
The proposed lease is for 100 years, O'Rourke said.
PRC Board of Trustees Chairman Ravi Sanyal said there is a strong need for the park, because the large subdivisions Park West and Dunes West are nearby.
"That is a great location," he said.
The park land abuts the intersection of S.C. Highway 41 and U.S. 17. Highway 41, one of the busiest roads in town, goes past the locked plantation entrance, where no-trespassing signs are posted.
Existing trails on the land would be expanded for public enjoyment. "More of a nature conservancy and a park at the same time," Sanyal said.
The plantation is thick with dense stands of pine and hardwood trees, and has 10 miles of trails. Birds of prey, alligators, ducks, otters, songbirds and other Lowcountry critters live there. There also is a lake that could be opened for fishing.
Near the center of the property sits an overgrown foundation of the original plantation house, which is said to have burned after the Civil War.
The lease agreement, if signed by both parties and approved by Master-in-Equity Judge Mikell Scarborough, would be the culmination of legal wrangling over the will of John Muller, who owned the property.
Muller named Newberry College and the Franke Home as beneficiaries. They have complained about receiving little money from Muller's properties.
"Everybody wins. My client is delighted with the outcome," said Ellison Smith, attorney for the college.
"What it will mean is that both Newberry and Franke will get a fairly good amount of money over the terms of the lease," Smith said. "Until this time there has been little or no income distributed to them."
Smith said he could not reveal how much money the beneficiaries would receive under the terms of the agreement.
Recently, Mount Pleasant and the PRC each chipped in $10 million to buy 245 acres on Rifle Range Road for a park. The 943-acre Palmetto Islands County Park off Long Point Road and the town's 14-acre Memorial Waterfront Park next to the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge provide green space.
Before his death and burial at Laurel Hill in 1984, Muller was a postal worker and was active in the Preservation Society of Charleston.
He was elected as the organization's president in 1959, and 10 years later, when the group created the position of executive director, he was the first to fill that slot. He also served as a trustee of the Historic Charleston Foundation.
Muller, who attended Newberry and would have turned 100 this past November, renovated several buildings in downtown Charleston. A handful of homes on Archdale Street are still rented out in his trust's name. He never married or had children.
Reach Prentiss Findlay at 937-5711.
Wannamaker County Park -- 1,015 acresPalmetto Islands County Park -- 943 acres*Laurel Hill Plantation -- 781 acresJames Island County Park -- 643 acres*proposed