A years-long struggle to conserve the Angel Oak and its environs in the face of development finally has produced reason for optimism.
The property, 36 acres adjacent to the iconic giant live oak on Johns Island, is back in the hands of the Coastal Federal Credit Union of Charlotte, and while a substantial portion of the land is still likely to be developed, local conservation groups are being given an opportunity to buy more than half of the total site.
The property’s monetary value is being assessed, and the next challenge will be to find the money to acquire the property.
It’s well worth the effort.
The Angel Oak, hundreds of years old, has been a favorite spot for picnickers, photographers and people who just need an inspiring place to think. It has a rich cultural history associated with life on rural Johns Island and the Civil Rights movement there. The oak and nine acres around it, owned by the city of Charleston, serve as a tourist destination and a small park.
It was in July of 2007 that Samantha Siegel, who lives on Johns Island, learned that a developer was moving forward with plans to build more than 600 housing units and 80,000 square feet of retail space on acreage adjacent to the tree she loves. Ms. Siegel and Lorna Hattler made it their crusade to stop the development, which was planned for an area zoned as a “gathering place.”
Ms. Siegel began a campaign to “Save the Angel Oak,” eventually gathering support on its website from more than 11,700 people around the world. Meanwhile, she challenged 20 or so local, state and federal permits, and attended countless meetings on the subject.
Who says one person can’t make a difference?
The efforts of “Save the Angel Oak” have been supported by the Coastal Conservation League, Islanders for Responsible Expansion and Concerned Citizens of the Sea Islands. Ms. Siegel is delighted that more than half of the proposed development will not likely happen, and the density will be decreased significantly — now about 255 housing units.
Of course she would be even happier if all of the development would go away. She still has concerns about how runoff could harm the tree, and is doing research to determine if the property has historical features — including graves — that should be protected.
Executive director of the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission Tom O’Rourke shares her reverence for the area’s cultural and natural heritage. He has participated in local discussions about the Angel Oak property, with PRC possibly taking ownership of the property as a larger park.
While he has heard nothing in several months, PRC never closes doors, he told us. “We don’t even have doors.”
Indeed, PRC built a community park at Haut-Gap Middle School just across Bohicket Road from the Angel Oak, and Mr. O’Rourke already has given some thought about how the park could be tied in with the Angel Oak property.
The city of Charleston has talked about turning its portion over to PRC to operate as a park.
The city, PRC and local conservationists would all do a huge service to the area by cooperating to make the purchase and preservation of the Angel Oak site happen.
As Mr. O’Rourke says, it is important that, 200 years from now, important sites like the Angel Oak, which tell the area’s story, still exist.