Brackish tidal marshes are the most threatened wetlands on the South Carolina coast, disappearing an acre at a time as seas rise.
One of those vital sea life nursery grounds is expected to be restored along the Ashley River at the former King's Grant Golf Course in North Charleston.
Eighty acres will be turned into a marsh park with a walking trail and paddlecraft launch. The remaining 90 acres of the former course are slated for development after a 10-year battle by neighbors over their rights to the property.
Today, the marsh park acreage is largely swampy bottoms and ponds with a canal around the perimeter. Wildlife from alligators to osprey can be spotted and deer tracks are everywhere.
On a recent morning, swallows flitted through the air and an owl moved like a shadow through the trees.
The proposal in front of the Army Corps of Engineers is a $3.5 million mitigation project that helps to diffuse a handful of thorny controversies.
The purchase of the park land is being paid for by Palmetto Railways and by the WestEdge Foundation.
The Open Space Institute — a nonprofit, landscape conservation group that is becoming more active in the Lowcountry — is handling the mitigation and marsh restoration. The remaining high ground will be turned over to the city of North Charleston.
The property is among the last undeveloped riverside stretches along the south bank of the river in the booming and densely populated Dorchester Road corridor between North Charleston and Summerville.
Mitigation is a conservation effort required by state law when a development destroys wetlands. In this case, WestEdge is paying to compensate for taking a half-mile stretch of wetlands to build its Lockwood Boulevard development.
The wetlands are what remains of historic Gadsden Creek. The green space in the commercial downtown district was valued by its neighbors. Conservation groups and neighbors opposed filling them in. Andrew Wunderley, the Charleston Waterkeeper and one of the opposition leaders, said he's placated by the mitigation.
"The loss of wetland habitat and access at the WestEdge site is being offset by the creation of new wetland habitat and public access on the same river. That doesn't happen very often, if at all. It's ideal and really special," he said.
Meanwhile, the 170-acre golf course property has been in an exhaustive legal tug-of-war since its operators sold to a developer whose plans were opposed by King's Grant property owners. Their homeowners association owned rights to use the golf course and pool.
In a compromise, the pool has been reopened, a picnic area and riverfront walking trail have been built along the edge of the 90 development acres that King's Grant can use. The marsh park mitigation, though, doesn't fully relieve homeowner concerns.
Dan Perry, president of the King's Grant on the Ashley homeowner's association, said he's glad to hear the marsh property will be conserved but he's concerned about increased traffic from it through the neighborhood.
The paddlecraft launch at the park will be the latest addition to the emerging Ashley River Blue Trail. The marshes will help to buffer nearby neighborhoods from periodic flooding. Kim Elliman, the institute president, called them an irreplaceable asset.
"The King's Grant restoration project offsets local wetlands impacts with local wetlands restoration," said Nate Berry, institute vice president. "As sea levels continue to rise and salt water moves inland, more restoration projects like this will be needed to insure plants and animals have room to migrate inland."