Land trust anniversary cause for celebration

The Beaufort County Open Land Trust has much to celebrate on its 40th anniversary.

The Land Trust, which started in 1971 with a simple lot purchase to preserve a scenic vista along Beaufort's Bay Street, set the pace for land conservation in South Carolina and Beaufort County. The 14,000 acres protected as a result of its efforts are a lasting legacy for all who value and benefit from what the Lowcountry offers.

As development pressures mounted over the years, the Land Trust's work became vital to preventing long-term community assets from falling victim to short-term gain. Today, it manages the county's Rural and Critical Lands Preservation Program, a key component in that effort.

The Land Trust's work first focused on the city of Beaufort. It bought houses on Bay Street and Bellamy Curve in Beaufort and tore them down to open up river views. But it also played a role in preserving Auldbrass Plantation near Yemassee, designed by the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

Starting in the late 1990s, the trust, through various partnerships, helped protect more than 400 acres on Lemon Island, and in 2002, it helped preserve the Bluffton Oyster Factory Park. In 2009, it helped protect its first property on Hilton Head Island, an easement on 30 acres at South Forest Beach.

Its preservation efforts in recent years have spanned from a 1-acre portion of The Green, a park in downtown Beaufort, to the 2,500-acre Woodlands Plantation along the Edisto River in Bamberg County.

As the Land Trust's website notes, not only do the group's purchases preserve open vistas, but they also protect critical habitat for rare and endangered species, help protect water quality, preserve agricultural and timber lands, and protect historic sites and structures.

But the Land Trust's greatest legacy may be showing the community that this work is important and how each of us can play a part.

In 1971, three people saw a small piece of land worth saving. They borrowed $5,000, purchased the property and paid the money back by selling 50 tickets to a $100-a-plate fundraiser. Fortunately, for all of us, they didn't stop there.

It's that kind of foresight, gumption and willingness to step up to a challenge that has helped preserve soul-soothing vistas and our quality of life in the Lowcountry.