Beaufort News

Wildlife group proposes bird depot

A new conservation group wants to turn an abandoned railroad in northern Beaufort County into a depot for migratory birds passing through the Lowcountry.

Joe Hamilton, executive director of The Trust for Natural Wildlife Habitats, hopes the property will attract tropical birds such as indigo and painted buntings.

"A lot of these birds utilize those shrubby to grassy areas for nesting and feeding," said Hamilton, a certified wildlife biologist who has worked for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources. "If you look around, you'll see very little of that kind of habitat left."

The railroad corridor is about 150 feet wide and runs from the town of Port Royal to Yemassee.

It was purchased in 2009 by the Beaufort-Jasper Water and Sewer Authority, which planned to run pipelines through the property, said BJWSA general manager Dean Moss.

The trust has an easement on the northern, 10-mile stretch where the habitat would be.

South of the Whale Branch River, the corridor is slated to become a bike trail.

Hamilton will send letters to the 115 people who own land on either side of the property this week to introduce them to the project and ask for their help.

He and several other biologists formed the trust last year specifically for the project.

The rails, ties and rock are being removed under the direction of the BJWSA. Moss said that work should be finished in the next few months.

Once complete, the trust's plan calls for tractor-pulled discs and herbicides to clear invasive species and ultimately create strips of young, native vegetation.

Hamilton said the property will be closed to the public for safety and liability reasons. Gates will be placed where the corridor intersects major road crossings to keep vehicles from driving on the railroad bed.

The trust is funded completely through donations.

Hamilton doesn't yet know how much money will be required for the project, but he's asking landowners in the area to consider contributing -- even an amount as small as $10.

"These birds are very transient, so they would come to people's bird feeders along the way," he said. "It's good for everybody it the neighborhood."

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