County Open Land Trust celebrates year of firsts, including Hilton Head project

Last year was one of 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.

The Hilton Head property was in South Forest Beach, where homeowners joined forces to prevent the development of about 30 acres between the dunes and their houses.

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, which included negotiating 13 conservation easements. Conservation easements are agreements that prevent the land's development in exchange for tax breaks for the owners.

"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 its formation in 1971, Webb said.

The land preserved in South Forest Beach includes rare maritime forest between houses and the beach from Alder Lane to the edge of Sea Pines Resort. It was purchased by South Forest Beach property owners at a bankruptcy sale in 1989, according to Forest Beach Property Owners Association president Jack Daly. The owners pooled their money to buy the land so they could prevent its development, Daly has said.

More than 20 years later, the owners formed Lawton Beach Holdings LLC to create the conservation easement to forever extinguish the possibility of development, said Daly.

Lawton Beach Holdings donated the development rights of the land to the Beaufort County Open Land Trust, but it still owns the property.

The South Forest Beach forest helps prevent erosion and is home to native plants and wildlife such as sparkleberry and bald eagles.