The Nature Conservancy (TNC) announced Friday that the third-largest undeveloped tract of land in Charleston County is under permanent protection through a conservation easement that supports agricultural, forestry and recreational use.

The Willtown tract, 2,101 acres of undeveloped land, contributes to a 29-mile contiguous corridor of natural habitats for wildlife. The easement will keep the property under private ownership by TNC, promoting conservation and limiting its future development.

“Willtown is a very large property, but the impact of its protection is even larger,” TNC executive director Dale Threatt-Taylor said in a press release. “The forested land will help filter and clean the water that drains from Willtown into the Edisto River and eventually the ecologically rich St. Helena Sound. And, keeping that forest working, as the conservation easement allows, will support local jobs and South Carolina’s timber industry.”

The Willtown tract fits between a federal refuge and private land, contributing to 30 years and 300,000 acres of land protection momentum, according to the press release from TNC.

“It fits like a puzzle piece between the National Wildlife Refuge and other protected lands,” Steward Terra Communications principal Jennifer Howard told City Paper.

The Willtown tract shares more than a mile of its border with the Ashepoo-Combahee-Edisto river basin, commonly called the ACE Basin, one of the largest undeveloped wetland ecosystems on the Atlantic Coast.

The Nature Conservancy

“The ACE Basin is ground zero for migrating birds and wading birds,” Charleston County Greenbelt Program executive director Cathy Ruff said in the press release. “This network of protected lands in Charleston and neighboring counties is what keeps our rural areas authentic and maintains the character of Charleston County. It’s an invaluable stopover point for migrating birds and hugely important for all kinds of plants and wildlife.”

The Willtown tract was given high priority by the South Carolina Conservation Bank and the Charleston Greenbelt Grant Program. Additional funding was provided by TNC and the Ace Basin Task Force, and the remaining easement value was donated by the landowner.

“This is made possible by a local and statewide funding source – the Charleston Greenbelt Bank and the South Carolina Conservation Bank,” Howard said. “Land protection without these funding sources is nearly impossible. And often times, securing one funding source helps leverage another.”

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