COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolinians who love the outdoors will soon have access to more than 2,200 acres in Laurens and Chester counties, thanks to Open Space Institute (OSI), a New York-based conservation organization.
In the past month, OSI announced first the transfer of 385 acres in Chester County and 1,841 acres in Laurens County to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) with the intent the sites become new public lands.
The acreage in Chester is part of the 494 acres of largely forested Landsford Tract along the Catawba River. OSI acquired the property in 2020 and sectioned off the site into two parcels. The 385-acre portion was conveyed to SCDNR in August 2021.
The remaining 109 acres will be handed over to SCDNR after OSI works to restore stream resources to satisfy wetland mitigation requirements associated with the new Carolina Panthers' new training facility development in Rock Hill.
Restoring the stream is important to the area as the improved water flow -- and water quality -- is just upstream to the world's largest remaining colony of Rocky Shoals Spider lilies. The 109 acres is also subject to a conservation easement held by the Katawba Valley Land Trust.
In Laurens County, OSI conveyed five tracts totaling 1,841 acres to be added to SCDNR's 4,664-acre Belfast Wildlife Management Area. The "Belfast Extension" features eight ponds and lakes, upland forests and wetlands, prairie fields and pristine streams and is easily accessible from Columbia, Greenville and Spartanburg metro areas. The extension will increase public hunting grounds in the Saluda River Basin after SCDNR completes a planning and management period.
Four of the five Belfast tracts -- totaling 1,720 acres -- were acquired by OSI as part of a wetlands mitigation fund associated with South Carolina Department of Transportation's highway project. SCDNR and the South Carolina Conservation Bank funded the acquisition of the remaining 121 acres.