Where green space pays off

A dock leads to Buffalo Lake at Summers Corner, an new upscale community from WestRock in Dorchester County. (Provided)

Not so many years ago, anyone calling himself a conservationist was considered to be on the fringe.

Not now. Even buttoned-down business executives and big-time developers know that conservationists can preserve an area’s natural beauty and health — and enhance profits by doing so.

Spring Grove, a 72,000-acre tract straddling the Charleston-Dorchester county line and flanking the Edisto River, proves that point. And its commitment to protecting 53,000 of those acres from development is a dramatic reminder of the value of green space for flora, fauna and humans.

WestRock (formerly MeadWestvaco Corp.) has finalized plans for Spring Grove (formerly East Edisto) after nine years of planning. Initial plans were for a dense suburban development, but with guidance from Ken Seeger, WestRock Land and Development president, and local conservationists those plans morphed into a development built around green space and respectful of the area’s natural and cultural assets. WestRock has also provided $1.6 million for ongoing conservation efforts there and played a role in putting conservation easements on 40 miles along the banks of the Edisto River.

Further, Charleston County Council agreed to use $2 million in Green Belt funds for a 638-acre park at the site. The Spring Grove County Park will secure a gateway to the environmentally sensitive Ashepoo, Combahee and Edisto River (ACE) Basin and provide important public access to the area with trails for walking, hiking, biking and bird watching.

Parts of the tract close to the river will have one residence on 200 acres. But most of the land will have one unit per 25 acres — still rural in feel.

That can work because plans also allow for small villages and settlements where houses are close to each other and also close to schools and jobs.

The Lowcountry has made extraordinary progress toward establishing a continual green belt to cross the area and serve as a natural habitat for wildlife and a source of beauty and recreation for people. It also provides protection for the ACE Basin and the Ashley River Historic District.

The conservation efforts at Spring Grove, achieved by cooperation from the developer, environmentalists and Charleston County, can serve as a model for other developers who agree that the Lowcountry’s natural assets are too special to squander.