For more than two decades, a small group of Hilton Head Island residents has experimented in time travel, attempting to transport people thousands of years into the past to a sea island untouched by man.
In a manner of speaking, anyway.
The Hilton Head Island Land Trust celebrated its 25th anniversary last week. The nonprofit organization has protected 300 acres of island wetlands from development by acquiring land through donations, bequests, endowments and easements."We are excited to have come this far," land trust board member Betsy Jukofsky said. "I think we'll do well to retain these properties."
The trust's mission is to preserve and protect critical habitat and historical places on Hilton Head for the enjoyment of future generations. Jukofsky said the organization doesn't plan to acquire more land, but will focus instead on stewardship of property it already is protecting. "They play a key role in building public awareness and education of the importance of conservation and preservation," town manager Steve Riley said, adding the group has augmented the town's effort to slow development, create parks and preserve green space.
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The trust's four largest properties are the Whooping Crane Pond Conservancy and the Cypress Conservancy in Hilton Head Plantation, and Fort Howell and the Northridge Tract Conservation Area.
The forested, freshwater 51-acre Cypress Conservancy contains the only remaining, naturally occurring stand of bald cypress on the island. The trees are eastern relatives to the redwood and sequoia.
The 137-acre Whooping Crane Pond Conservancy, formed as a shallow valley between shoreline dunes tens of thousands of years ago, supports 75 plant and 100 wildlife species, according to the land trust.
"These are ancient landscapes with huge trees that make habitat for migratory wildlife that stretches from Canada to Paraguay," environmental scientist and former island resident Todd Ballantine said."The fact we have a viable cypress swamp on the island -- which is extremely rare since they were nearly all cut down during the island's logging period in the 1950s -- is a testament to the important work this group has done," he added. "There are some trees in there well over a century old."
Adding reclaimed water to the wetlands by Hilton Head Public Service District has aided the survival of the endangered wood stork, the red-shouldered hawk and the once-threatened bald eagle, according to Ballantine.
"There's a lot of life that depends on these areas being preserved," Ballantine said.