A 200-acre parcel along the upper Ashley River that the Lord Berkeley Conservation Trust recently put under an easement will ensure the small but important piece of land remains in its natural state to do what it does best: filter runoff draining into the river and help support a variety of birds and wildlife.
As Chris Vaughn, executive director of the trust, told reporter Jerrel Floyd, “It’s easy to forget the river claims beginnings in Berkeley and Dorchester counties before flowing through Charleston on its way to the ocean.”
The easement preventing development or timber harvesting is part of a larger conservation goal: to create an inviolable buffer around the Ashley’s entire headwaters, including the Wassamassaw and Cypress swamps, stretching northeast across I-26 to the Cross area. That effort got a big shot in arm about a year ago, when the land trust secured a 2,400-acre easement from the timber company Weyerhaeser, which has promised to return the land and about 6 miles of waterways to their natural states.
The latest easement, known as the Bridlewood property, is several miles downstream. Importantly, the 200 acres will serve as a buffer between the river and a newly developed housing tract.
It’s a win for conservationists. But developers have so far outpaced protections on both sides of the river, turning farmland into new neighborhoods. And some of the newer housing tracts around Summerville run right up against the river’s narrow channel.
Wanting to build on the riverfront south of Boonehill Road, where the river is much wider and more navigable, is understandable, but the swampy woods surrounding the creek-like channel to the north need to be left alone to help preserve wildlife habitats upstream — home to deer, sturgeon and birds of prey like swallowtail kites and osprey — and water quality downstream.
Dorchester County, which is developing a string of five parks along the river south of Boonehill Road, should be actively involved in upstream conservation to help preserve the beauty of the kayak friendly Ashley River Blue Trail; Berkeley County, too, farther upstream. Keeping the Ashley healthy should be a regional conservation effort.
The lower tidewater section of the river, home to 26 properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places, needs help, too. More oyster beds need to be reestablished, not just for recreational harvesting but to help filter water and prevent marsh erosion.
The Lord Berkeley Conservation Trust is smart to work its way down the river, protecting the headwaters first, then putting together a series of easements that will protect sustainable farming operations and ensure the river stays healthy as it makes its way toward Charleston Harbor.
We hope the Bridlewood easement will be the first of many to shield the blackwater section of the Ashley from encroaching development, and we expect the Dorchester and Berkeley county governments to strictly limit developments that would diminish the health and beauty of the river.