The Brothers at Mepkin Abbey have followed the discussion about the fate of Cainhoy Plantation over the past three months. We are hopeful that a positive outcome can be achieved for this important property, and with that in mind offer a message of patience and hope.
Mepkin Abbey, a Trappist monastery at the confluence of the two forks of the Cooper River, played a role in the conservation of the historic Cooper River corridor. Mepkin was originally the estate of several historic families including Sir John Colleton, Henry Laurens, and thereafter the well-known publisher, Henry Luce. In 1949, the Luces donated a large portion of the property to the Trappist Order. It was then that we accepted the hallowed role of stewards of Mepkin, a place we believe to be set in one of the most beautiful and sacred landscapes in America.
Our goal has been to respect the historic and ecological integrity of the property and be good members of the Cooper River community. Leading a monastic life, traditionally our community involvement is of the quiet kind.
In the mid-1990s, however, development pressures were soaring and land prices escalating, leaving the future of the Cooper River corridor uncertain. Sensing a tipping point, Father Francis Kline, then Abbot of Mepkin and now deceased, and his long-time colleague, Strachan Donnelley, then director of the Center for Humans and Nature and also now deceased, proposed a series of meetings loosely called the "Cooper River Forum." The purpose of the forum was to bring all of the community interests to the table to develop a common vision for the corridor. What was it that we all - fishermen, hunters, foresters, industrialists, landowners, historians, recreationists, and monks - valued? Over the course of several meetings we all resolved to move forward slowly and with controlled growth. On Mepkin's part, in August 2006 we placed the abbey under a conservation easement. In turn, our neighbors, the Meads, the Royalls and many others, including industries, placed easements on their properties.
Of course, there were instances of temporary conflict. For example, the remains of Childsbury, a colonial town established in 1707 on a high bluff along the river, was threatened with development. The community took the time to come together to find a solution. Today, Childsbury is protected in perpetuity for the public as a South Carolina Heritage Preserve.
Likewise, there was Bonneau Ferry. Then-owner Mead-Westvaco announced that it was selling 10,000 acres of its prime Bonneau Ferry holdings to a private developer. Again, the community worked together for an alternative. Bonneau Ferry was saved and given to South Carolina's Department of Natural Resources. Altogether some 30,000 acres have been protected.
Cainhoy Plantation is part of the Cooper River corridor. It anchors the southern end of the river much like we at Mepkin anchor the north. For good or for bad we are all connected. Like Childsbury, Bonneau Ferry and Mepkin, Cainhoy has enormous historic, cultural and ecological wealth and has irreplaceable strategic value given its place in this immensely complex and intricate system that includes the Francis Marion National Forest and the Cooper and the Wando Rivers.
We at Mepkin Abbey believe Cainhoy deserves a plan that accurately reflects its historical, cultural and ecological sensitivity as well as allowing smart development. Further, we believe we can arrive at a plan for Cainhoy that benefits all parties. Such a positive outcome cannot happen overnight and without the sincere collaboration of all interested parties.
And surely it cannot happen if the City of Charleston moves forward with its current fast- track approval process.
Some have coined the first of the Cooper River Forum meetings the "Miracle Meeting" as it set the stage for abundant good will and solid cooperation. In truth, at work then was not a miracle but inspired leadership.
In the spirit of Father Francis Kline and the many leaders who labored with him to protect the Cooper River, I humbly suggest that the City of Charleston slow down the approval process and that we convene another Cooper River Forum, again at Mepkin Abbey, to help the community focus on the shared values of this unique and treasured landscape and plan for its development and conservation.
Cainhoy is a jewel that must not be lost.
And it will not be lost if we agree to move forward together slowly and with grace.
Abbot Stanislaus Gumula was elected the fourth abbot of Mepkin Abbey in 2006.
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