Lowcountry Land Trust Permanently Protects Upper Edisto River Tract
Willow Lake Vital for Water Qualtiy in ACE Basin
Lowcountry Land Trust announced the permanent protection of 1,373 acres in the ACE Basin, one of the largest intact ecosystems on the East Coast. Willow Lake, located near the town of Branchville in rural Bamberg County, lies directly adjacent to the Edisto River, the longest free-flowing blackwater river in North America. It also surrounds a portion of Heritage Highway, part of South Carolina’s federally designated National Heritage Corridor. Protection of Willow Lake was made possible through funds awarded by the South Carolina Conservation Bank.
Sustainably managed for wildlife habitat and timber, Willow Lake has 339 feet of direct frontage along the Edisto River, and nearly half a mile of Willow Lake’s boundary lies within approximately 300 feet of the river. Forested wetlands and blackwater braided streams associated with Brier Creek and the Edisto River floodplain span nearly 350 of its acres. These wetlands are vital to maintaining water quality downstream. As runoff draining from upstream lands passes through them, the forested wetlands act as a filter, allowing for nutrient uptake and sediment deposition.
“Protecting such a large tract of land directly adjacent to the Edisto River safeguards critical wildlife habitat and working forestland, preserves the scenic character of the Edisto and the SC National Heritage Corridor, contributes to downstream water quality, and represents a significant stepping stone in accomplishing landscape scale conservation along one of the longest blackwater rivers in the world,” explains David Ray, Chief Conservation Officer, Lowcountry Land Trust.
While the Edisto is highly protected on its lower half, conserved lands and protected river frontage are sparse along the upper half of the river. “Protection of the 1,373-acres at Willow Lake could prove to be a keystone in establishing a significant conservation corridor on the valuable and exposed upper Edisto,” explains Raleigh West, the bank’s executive director.
“Our family was thrilled to have the support of South Carolina Conservation Bank and the Lowcountry Land Trust for this easement,” says Willow Lake manager Frank Beidler. “Both organizations have proven time and again that putting the land first is never bad business. We appreciate their contributions and hope to work with them again.”
“The protection of Willow Lake dovetails with the objectives of the state’s new Edisto River Basin Council,” adds Josh Bell, South Coast Project Manager, Lowcountry Land Trust. “The council was founded to bring stakeholders together to document and create a long-term protection plan for the many ways the Edisto benefits South Carolinians—from its role in the public water supply and energy production, to the value it brings residents who use it for fishing and recreation.”
The conservation easement closed on July 16, 2020 and will remain in effect in perpetuity.