Francis Marion

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The Francis Marion National Forest has put on a few acres.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently finalized its long-planned purchase of the Honey Hill Tract off S.C. Highway 45 for $1.61 million, according to a deed recorded with Berkeley County.

The previous owner was the Nature Conservancy, a large land preservation organization that often sells property to the USDA's Forest Service to generate money for future real estate purchases.

The 637-acre Honey Hill parcel is near Shulerville, a rural community between Jamestown and McClellanville. The USDA sought public feedback about its plans to purchase the property and incorporate it into the national forest a year ago.

“The purpose of the acquisition is to consolidate land tracts to increase efficiency of management of federal lands,” the department said in a November 2017 published notice.

It went on to say the purchase would “provide additional public lands for dispersed recreation, including hunting and subsistence gathering, very close to rural crossroads communities that depend on these forests to supplement their food supplies. The tract will provide excellent public access via county and state roads to enhance tourism opportunities.”

The “dispersed recreation” goal triggered safety concerns from nearby residents worried about hunters with high-powered rifles and dogs roaming near their homes.

The Forest Service said in a statement it has addressed those issues. After two meetings with landowners, the agency and the S.C. Department of Natural Resources agreed to include the tract in the Waterhorn Wildlife Management Area, which doesn't allow dog hunting and where rifle hunting is limited to 18 designated days in November and December each year.

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Also, the government said, neighbors will be notified when prescribed burns are scheduled for the property’s underbrush.

The Honey Hill sale marked the second recent Berkeley County land deal between USDA and the nonprofit Nature Conservancy. The previous transaction closed in October 2017, when the agriculture department bought a 621-acre timber parcel near St. Stephen for $1.31 million.

In Charleston County, they worked together on the $2.4 million transfer of the 900-acre "Tibwin II" tract near McClellanville in December 2016 and the USDA's $764,000 purchase of a nearby 138-acre plot from the conservation group earlier this year.

Contact John McDermott at 843-937-5572 or follow him on Twitter at @byjohnmcdermott