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Shem Creek woods where neighborhood plays now being conserved

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Shem Creek woods where neighborhood plays now being conserved

Ten-year-old Annabelle Burkhold talks to her 6-year-old brother Willem as she plays in a tree along a tidal creek that feeds into Shem Creek. The Shemwood II homeowners association has been given 2 acres of wooded property next to the playground, where children and adults from the neighborhood can enjoy nature.

Thirteen-year-old Meredith Schilpp played Narnia under the tall hardwoods as a child. Twelve-year-old Ture Nyman and his brother, Jacob, just built a tree fort in the live oak overhanging a tidal creek.

That neighborhood patch of woods along Shem Creek where the kids go for adventure is the latest conservation by the Mount Pleasant Land Conservancy, an urban-space group that makes a point of preserving places where people go.

The undeveloped 2-acre tract surrounds the Peggy's Park playground in Shemwood II. For 40 years it's been one of those neighborhood “forests” of the imagination that anyone who played outdoors as a child remembers.

Now it gets to stay that way.

The conservancy acquired the property, put it under conservation easement and deeded it to the Shemwood II homeowners association.

The tract is another effort that is making the modest conservancy a difference maker. The woods are one of a few, if not the only, neighborhood child's-play treasures preserved in the Lowcountry.

“Just a quiet, peaceful haven. The kids can come here, get away from the TV and all the electronics. It's a place for imaginary play, what rarely exists anymore,” said Melanie Burkhold, the homeowners association secretary who helped forge the deal as its president.

The 2 acres had been deeded to the town of Mount Pleasant by a previous owner who realized the tract didn't have enough access to develop. The town approached Burkhold, who took it to the association.

Everybody wanted it to stay the way it is, agreed Hoyt Kiser, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1976; the park is named for his late wife, Peggy.

For a lot of land-conservation groups, the focus tends to be large private tracts, working with owners who have the means and the love of the land. For the public at large, those conserved parcels stay part of the viewscape and enhance the overall environment. But they stay hands-off. The Mount Pleasant group works with private tracts, too, but keeps a focus on places that often are more a part of the community.

“Public access is not the priority, but it's certainly up on the list,” said John Girault, conservancy executive director.

And tiny Shemwood II is a lot more critical to the overall environs than it seems.

“Not only is it 2 acres on Shem Creek, it's 100,000 acres of Charleston Harbor” because it provides buffer to maintain water quality, said Dana Beach, the Coastal Conservation League director who has championed preserving the Lowcountry landscape. Large-parcel conservation is needed to maintain the region's ecological integrity, he said. But the smaller, accessible tracts are just as much a part of a mosaic “that makes this place such an extraordinary place to live.”

“Everybody was adamant” in favor of doing what it took to keep their woods, Burkhold said. It turns out adults also like to stroll under the trees along the feeder creek to Shem Creek. The tract has been a treasure of Shemwood II since the place was developed in the 1970s. A Halloween haunted trail ran under the dense trees for years. The woody environs along the tidal creek gave ambience to oyster roasts held at the park.

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