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Lisa Shealy, stewardship director for the Lowcountry Land Trust, recently joined a group surveying the Timothy Creek tract recently acquired by the Open Space Institute. David Ray/Lowcountry Land Trust

RIDGEVILLE — The land around Timothy Creek is mostly swamp. Not so long ago, the idea of conserving the rural wetlands would have been shrugged off.

Today it's within two miles of the new Volvo industrial complex, and within one mile of an emerging industrial park outside of Ridgeville. It abuts the longstanding Showa Denko Carbon plant and is across Four Holes Swamp from the Oakridge Landfill.

The mid-Dorchester County area where the creek runs is off the S.C. Highway 27 interchange of Interstate 26, an area slated for even more industry.

That's why the Open Space Institute recently bought a 328-acre tract along the creek, which will be sold to a private owner under a protective conservation easement. It's one of the last large missing links connecting protected lands in the long-sought greenbelt around Charleston.

The purchase "is really all about Four Holes Swamp and the Edisto River — protecting those wetlands as development in the region ramps up," said Patrick Moore, a project manager for the institute.

Converting it to public land was considered, but a railroad track running right through would have been too much of a danger, he said.

That means the site won't be open for public access.

Timothy Creek drains to the swamp, which feeds one-third of the flow of water in the river. The Edisto feeds two-thirds of the water into the vast ACE Basin. The basin is a big reason why creatures and natural ambiance continue to be abundant in the region.

For wildlife and natural habitat, the swamp creates a corridor from the river nearly all the way to Lake Moultrie — in other words, nearly all the way around the Charleston metro area.

It is the "belt" in a greenbelt that is making the emerging Charleston metro area an envy of others on the urbanizing Southeast Coast.

The city is the only metropolitan area of its size on the entire East Coast that is virtually wrapped in green. Keeping it that way enhances everything from drinking water to the quality of life as well as property values of everyone in the area.

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The Timothy Creek tract joins more than 18,000 acres along the swamp already bought or conserved by Audubon South Carolina upstream and downstream of its Beidler Forest sanctuary, as well as a few thousand acres conserved by other groups and individual landholders.

The tract was acquired with wetlands mitigation money from a project considered confidential, Moore said. Because of that, he wouldn't name the company or say how much money was paid. Lowcountry Land Trust partnered in the effort.

"What makes it so significant is the growth pressure," Moore said. "When you look at the greenbelt this was one of the more significant holes in it."

Sharon Richardson, Audubon South Carolina director, said protecting the tract had been a priority project for Audubon and partnering groups. She was excited to hear it accomplished.

When it comes to the greenbelt, "we are (still) missing a couple of pieces. We're still a bit of a jigsaw puzzle," she said.

Reach Bo Petersen at @bopete on Twitter or 843-937-5744.

Science and environment reporter. Author of Washing Our Hands in the Clouds.