I can think of no other iconic Charleston landmark that deserves to be preserved for future generations more than the Angel Oak.
We are excited and grateful that Charleston County Council’s Finance Committee approved the Lowcountry Open Land Trust’s greenbelt application for funding to preserve and protect/enhance Angel Oak Park. We are also hopeful that council will approve the application at its meeting on Tuesday night, and finally put an end to the Angel Oak development controversy that has been swirling for years.
I have spent the last five years of my life working tirelessly to protect the Angel Oak from development. It has been my life. I feel confident that if this application is approved, it will help secure the Angel Oak the protection it needs.
In July of 2008, we at Save the Angel Oak first became aware of a proposed development that would have surrounded the iconic Angel Oak tree on three sides. In response, we launched a petition against the project, and have been working since then to build community awareness of the catastrophic impact the proposed development would have had on the tree and Johns Island.
When we initially began our efforts, everyone told us that nothing could be done to stop this development. They said it was a done deal.
We have been through countless City Council and County Council meetings, public comments at zoning board meetings, Design Review Board meetings, every state and federal permit the developer applied for, and even a lawsuit.
Members of the community have come out to speak against the development and support protecting the Angel Oak time and time again. The community has made the Angel Oak’s importance as a natural and cultural resource known.
As a result of these efforts, not a single tree on that property has been cut down, and we now have an option for the Lowcountry Open Land Trust to buy 17 acres of the property. This will allow for 17 acres adjacent to the park to become an expanded public park area, which would include the historic tree and the potential for interpretive educational opportunities.
No one knows the actual age of the tree, but if the estimated 700-1400 year old age is valid, the Angel Oak predates recorded history on the island.
Obviously, the intentional conservation of the Angel Oak over hundreds and hundreds of years gives the tree historical significance in its own right, but the history of the area also tells the story of the history of Johns Island. This is an important story to tell; and this is an amazing opportunity to bring people together from many different backgrounds and cultures.
The forest surrounding the Angel Oak was a former Native American meeting place, plantation, freedman’s village, the site of the Johns Island Agricultural Hall, which held dinners and dances under the tree; it was a place teachers brought their children for field trips, a Gullah storytelling spot, an important area during the Civil Rights movement, and a place people from all walks of life could just come and eat their lunch in the shade.
The tree’s canopy shades an area of over 17,000 square feet, and the Angel Oak has the largest canopy of any live oak tree in the United States.
The purchase of the 17 acres also gives the city, the county, conservation groups, and the community the opportunity to work together to create the very best Angel Oak Park we can.
We have a unique and amazing opportunity to protect the Angel Oak from development with this land purchase, and the timing is crucial because we may not have the opportunity again.
Charleston County Council will decide this evening whether to approve using greenbelt funds to help purchase 17 acres.
Please attend the meeting and express your support for this application.
Public comment starts at 6:30 p.m., and the council meeting starts at 7 p.m.
Samantha J. Siegel is co-founder of Save the Angel Oak.