Faith Rivers James | provided

EDITOR’S NOTE:  These are excerpted remarks made Sept. 14, 2022, by Faith Rivers James, the new executive director of the Coastal Conservation League.

I’m a Charleston native, and like many others who grew up here, I always knew I would return.  After all, Dorothy was right – there’s no place like home!  

In coastal South Carolina, our lives and communities are inextricably linked to nature. Like many of you, I grew up playing in the fields, running through the woods, and riding bikes on quiet country roads, waving to everyone you saw along the way. 

My family lived four miles away from the village of Mount Pleasant. The Olive Branch AME Church was the center of community. And my mother and grandmother, both teachers, made sure that education was the primary focus of my childhood.  

By economic standards, we didn’t have much. But we enjoyed a rich heritage of love, community and oneness with the serene landscapes of our beloved Lowcountry. Jonathan Greene’s print, entitled “Seeking,” exemplifies that oneness of love of God, appreciation of nature, respect for the legacy of our ancestors and the interminable quest to reach new, higher heights. Every day, it will inspire me in my office here at the Coastal Conservation League.

Perry [my husband] and I just built a house along Clouter Creek on Daniel Island and we’re blessed to be the fifth generation of the Rivers family who call that special place home.  

Here, along the Carolina coast, our roots run deep in soft beach sand and pluff mud. And whether we’ve been here for generations, decades or even a few precious seasons, we choose to live here because of our shared appreciation for our coastal landscape and our common commitment to leave this place a little better than we found it.  

Serving as the executive director of the Conservation League has brought me full circle because it allows me to use all of my past experiences in one place. As a student of government, a practitioner of legislative process, a property law professor and a land use advocate, I’ve researched and written about these issues; and I bring a wealth of lessons from the experiences of my family and friends who are navigating the land use process and growth pressures along the coast.  

I am inspired by this community’s collaborative commitment of time, talent, treasure and your legacy to the conservation cause. With your helping hands, the Conservation League will continue to protect our natural resources, as this organization has done for the past 33 years. We won’t stop advocating for our coast and its beautiful landscapes. And we will take on new challenges as they arise. From protecting interior freshwater wetlands to Carolina Bays and saltwater marshes, we will continue working on long-term projects for Wadmalaw, in Cainhoy and on the North Coast.  

We will continue the clarion call to combat climate change, looking for ways to stem flooding, enhance our energy efficiency and reduce our waste footprint. And we will expand our work with local communities and farmers, helping them to thrive in place so we can thwart burgeoning development.  

From empowering the Phillips Community to combat new roads and to pursue greenbelt spaces, and supporting the Gullah Farmers Cooperative by enrolling them as suppliers to our GrowFood Carolina program, we are helping people remain on their land and helping rural communities to prosper.  

We are protecting downtown neighborhoods from cruise ships, celebrating conservation outcomes for Captain Sam’s Spit, and promoting alternative traffic routes to ease congestion without the community disruption and displacement that could occur from an extension of Interstate 526 into the solace of our sea islands.  

If you want to see an example of the damage an interstate can do, just look at what happened in my home community at the other end of I-526.  I-526 landed where Mr. Solly Mazyck stood on his property fence line every day.  One by one, families disbanded, seeking the peace and calm we once enjoyed along Old Georgetown Highway.  

I-526 was the beginning of the end of life as we knew it in Four Mile. Now, only a few houses remain in what was once a thriving historic settlement community. And it will never be the same.

And so it is my mission – and our charge – to seek creative solutions that enable us to meet growth challenges without losing our coastal character. It is a tall order, but we are up to the task.  

Together we will conserve our natural resources, protect our coastal and rural landscapes, and preserve the communities that are the core of our existence.  The Book of Proverbs tells us, “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children.” We owe it not only to our own children but to everybody’s children to leave them a rich inheritance here along the South Carolina coastal plain.

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