When I drive onto the sand roads of Boone Hall Plantation, I always roll down both front seat windows. My practice was no different when I visited on Friday, November 20th, nor was the feeling that came over me as I approached the awe-inspiring oak allee. Peace, quiet, and beauty—big time. What hits me is how that drive into the property is still just as impactful as it was on my first visit.
Barely over a year ago, community members gathered at Boone Hall’s cotton dock to celebrate an incredible gift. Willie McRae and his sister Elizabeth McRae Petersen, who both grew up on the property, had made one of the largest donations of conservation easement value in South Carolina history. Lowcountry Land Trust was privileged to accept the conservation easement that protects the land and preserves that same awe-inspired feeling people have upon driving through Boone Hall’s gate—Forever.
But on November 20th, I wasn’t there to work. No easement terms to negotiate and no stewardship visit to report. I got to go back to experience the place. On that day, it was my privilege to share Boone Hall with friend and colleague Dale Threatt-Taylor, to welcome her in her new post as state director for The Nature Conservancy.
Jim Westerhold, Boone Hall’s new general manager, toured us around the property, showing us the incredible variety that makes this place one-of-a-kind. The freshwater pond with its overhanging live oak filled with ibis, herons, egrets, and wood storks; the farm fields and orchards with their crops; a fox squirrel that was among the five recently translocated to the property; the corn maze designed this year in the shape of a portrait paying tribute to Willie McRae, who passed away in April; a bald eagle perched above a nest high in a mature pine tree; and some ancient Boone Hall deeds and plats framed on the wall inside the main house.
On that visit special, I was pleased to present framed resolutions passed by Lowcountry Land Trust’s Board of Trustees, honoring Willie and Elizabeth for their extraordinary gift. It was a tremendous joy to deliver these items in-person to Jim and Boone Hall’s staff—and a few minutes later to Elizabeth McRae Petersen herself. One needs not to elaborate beyond the last paragraph of the resolution, which fittingly honors these landowners and our funders with the following words:
“Let it be known that the S.C. Conservation Bank, the Charleston County Greenbelt Fund and Charleston County Council provided critical funding. In requesting compensation for only a fraction of the value of the land, Elizabeth’s and Willie’s gift represents one of the most valuable private donations to conservation in the history of South Carolina. ‘It will always be a magical, mystical place,’ said Willie, speaking for himself and Elizabeth after the conservation easement signing. Indeed, we thank them for making ‘always’ a reality.”