County's open land trust celebrates a year of firsts and 13 protected parcels

Last year included several firsts for South Carolina's oldest land trust.

For the first time in its 39-year history, the Beaufort County Open Land Trust preserved tracts on Hilton Head Island and in Hampton and Bamberg counties, said Beekman Webb, president of the nonprofit organization's board of directors.

Webb was among several people who spoke Wednesday at the trust's annual luncheon at the Officers' Club at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.

Attended by about 150 supporters, the luncheon highlighted the trust's achievements in 2009. They included negotiation of 13 conservation easements, in which tax breaks are given to property owners who agree not to further develop their land.

"We not only want to protect open vista parcels but also preserve land that has some kind of impact on our community and our way of life," said Anne Bluntzer, the trust's executive director.

The trust has helped preserve more than 13,850 acres since it formed in 1971, Webb said.

This year, the trust plans to complete its purchase of "The Green," an undeveloped city block in The Point neighborhood of Beaufort, and negotiate easements to conserve more land near Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, Bluntzer said.

Protecting MCAS Beaufort from encroaching development will be crucial as the base prepares for the arrival of the Joint Strike Fighter in 2014, said Col. John Snider, the air station's commanding officer.

Snider said a failure to preserve land near the air station could make the base vulnerable to closure.

"When I first joined the Marine Corps, I was stationed at El Toro (Calif.) and that base no longer exists," Snider said. "(Development) grew up around the base, and they lost their base."