Land Trust, Audubon Society's preservation efforts continue to grow

Hilton Head Island Land Trust vice president Jim Fannon leads a tour of Fort Howell after the dedication of a new historical marker at the site on Monday.
Hilton Head Island Land Trust vice president Jim Fannon leads a tour of Fort Howell after the dedication of a new historical marker at the site on Monday. File/The Island Packet

It was a time to celebrate and congratulate those who had worked long and hard to make it happen. On Nov. 7, members of the Hilton Head Island Land Trust and their guests at Fort Howell stood under towering oaks, to see the unveiling of the marker that declared the fort now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Long a dream of Land Trust president Ed Batten, board members Jim Fannon and Marty Hocutt were inspired to take up the cause that began for them in January 2010 when Hocutt began working on the paper presentation. In April, Fannon and Hocutt went to Columbia to meet with Dr. Tracy Power of the South Carolina State Historic Preservation Office. Power asked for facts and figures; Hocutt responded, leading Powers to say that her presentation was the most complete he'd seen in a long time. In July, Powers visited Fort Howell and declared the site "one of the best preserved earthen Civil War forts in the state."

Longtime residents of Hilton Head Island may reflect on the long road that led to the Land Trust's November celebration. The journey may have begun in 1954 with Carolyn "Beany" Newhall's persuasive conversation with Sea Pines developer Charles Fraser that led to the setting aside of 50 acres near Sea Pines as a natural preserve. This was later named the Audubon Newhall Preserve.

In 1972, Beany was at it again -- this time with island naturalist and author, Nancy Cathcart. Together they persuaded Fraser and pal Gen. Howard Davis, president of Hilton Head Plantation, to set aside 90 acres of land in what was to become the largest plantation on Hilton Head Island and the home of Whooping Crane Pond Conservancy.

In 1975, a boardwalk and main path was designed by nationally known naturalist and illustrator, Todd Ballantine, who constructed the 2,000-foot boardwalk with financial aid from Newhall. In 1977 a Conservation Easement from Port Royal Plantation Group was given to the South Carolina Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, as well as a limited warranty deed to the Hilton Head Plantation Property Owners Association.


The Nature Conservancy formed a Stewardship Committee of Audubon Society members who named Betty MacDonald their chairwoman. The committee celebrated Beany Newhall Day in 1985 by naming the boardwalk in her honor. In 1987, the Nature Conservancy, wishing to be relieved of the responsibility of managing Whooping Crane, and the Stewardship Committee, wanting greater autonomy, voted in favor of setting up a tax-exempt, nonprofit corporation and The Hilton Head Island Trust was born.

At the regularly scheduled monthly board meetings, the Land Trust began consideration of local lands deemed worthy of protection of its flora and fauna and its ecological structure to keep it forever wild. With the interest and cooperation of the Town of Hilton Head government as well as private land owners, the Land Trust is owner or steward to Cypress Marsh Conservancy of Hilton Head Plantation, Northridge Park, Fort Howell and Whooping Crane Pond Conservancy. Each member of the board reports back at the meetings on his or her assigned area, for example:

  • "Do we need more brochures at WCPC?" Designed by Ballentine in 1980, the brochures are filled with information about the plants and birds to be seen on the walk.
  • "When will Jim Fannon hold his next Fort Howell program at Honey Horn Museum?" Fannon often gives walks at the fort, sometimes in Civil War costume.
  • "What's the water level at the Cypress conservancy?" Water levels are monitored. When they fall during dry years, it affects the wildlife that live in the pond.

    In an article published in The Island Packet in January 1980, Nancy Cathcart wrote, "Now is the Year of the Bulldozer, the decade to come the era of Churned Earth. We have seen the island's only cypress swamp in danger, a rare shrub land draglined out of existence and several chunks hacked out of the corpus of the Sea Pines Forest Preserve. Twenty seasons have gone by since the bulldozer first invaded here. Now the landscape is measured not in butterfly fields but in discreet and guarded bundles of flora and fauna. These parcels are prized heirlooms of our collective ancestry, the gene pool of all that is scarce here. They include the six-acre Port Royal Arboretum, Sea Pines Forest Preserve, Baynard Ruins, Fort Mitchell, Fort Walker and Fort Sherman. Moss Creek Plantation has a beautiful 13-acre Fording Island Nature Preserve and the Pondspice Pocosin. Pinckney Island is a National Wildlife Refuge of 2,000 acres."

    In that same Packet edition, columnist and book author, Katie Callahan, visits Beany Newhall. Callahan writes: " 'The news is good,' Beany says. 'I'm moving to The Seabrook when they've finished constructing it. I have an apartment picked out looking out on a big lagoon. It's not the ocean, but it's water.' "

    That lagoon, named Bogey Gut might have been filled in if not for the Audubon Society, which stepped in to save it. One cannot help but notice that when the subject is the island environment, the island Audubon Society keeps coming up. Filled with bird and plant enthusiasts, some of them professional, the membership has been a part of the conservation of many of our parks and wild places.