Hitchcock Woods Foundation wants parcels of land conserved

Staff photo by Maayan Schechter Randy Wolcott, trustee of the Hitchcock Woods Foundation, displayed a map of the Woods during a Heritage Trust Advisory Board meeting Thursday. The Foundation requested support from the Board to place several parcels of land under a conservation easement. The easement would protect the open space of the land and its natural resources, but also protect it from future encroachment.

COLUMBIA — The Hitchcock Woods Foundation has requested support for placing seven parcels of the roughly 2,000-acre Woods under a conservation easement in order to protect the area from further encroachment.

The request was made during the Heritage Trust Advisory Board's meeting on Thursday.

The lack of information from the S.C. Department of Transportation about conceptual plans to widen the 118 bypass near Hitchcock Woods is just one of the major concerns of the Hitchcock Woods Foundation, according to Chairman Dr. Harry Shealy.

“We don't know if they (SCDOT) will put up sound walls or retaining walls,” Shealy said. “ ... We don't know the impact of drainage ... We are concerned about the impact near the bypass we had restored in hopes of attracting red-cockaded woodpeckers. We don't know anything about pollution as far as fumes or the litter factor. We're concerned about a number of different things.”

Shealy spoke alongside Foundation members and Trustee of the Woods Randy Wolcott, Patricia Corey and attorney Toby Ward.

Kevin Gantt, program manager with SCDOT, said his department and the consultant became aware of the protection matter awhile ago and that SCDOT will work with the Foundation to adjust the impact to the Woods.

“The area is about from Huntsman Drive to Dibble Road and the portion of the woods where the project would be touching is a little over a mile,” Gantt said. “We do know that area is protected, and we're going to do our best to avoid any impacts to that stretch of the Hitchcock Woods.”

Placing land under a conservation easement retains and protects natural resources and open space by preserving its historical, architectural, archaeological and cultural aspects, according to the Conservation Easement Act. An easement also protects land from future encroachment such as road widening.

The Foundation is also in the process of working on a survey for wooded endangered species like the red-cockaded woodpecker. In the past, management's practices drove the species out of the Woods, but, according to Wolcott, the Foundation is seeing signs of activity. If the study is accepted by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, that would add another level of conservation because the Woods would be home to a federal endangered species.

The Heritage Trust Advisory Board is part of DNR, and the Heritage Trust Program's purpose is to protect significant natural and cultural lands throughout the state.

“We came to the meeting just trying to get more information about what the plans are,” Wolcott said. “We can't make any determination of what the response needs to be to protect the lands because we don't really know SCDOT's plans.”

According to Section 27-8-30 of the Conservation Easement Act, an easement can be conveyed to a holder without consideration by any local government body, including a municipality, if authorized by elected members of the governmental body that owns the property which will carry the easement.

Wolcott said he and the rest of the Foundation's members were pleased with the support and outcome of the meeting.

“I think the recommendation will go forward and include the additional parcels under the conservation easement,” Wolcott said. “We just had a great response so that helps us to keep on preserving and improving the Woods.”

City Manager Richard Pearce said at press time that he did not have enough information on the matter to comment.

For more information about Hitchcock Woods, visit www.hitchcockwoods.org.

Maayan Schechter is the city beat reporter with Aiken Standard. An Atlanta native, she has a mass communications-journalism degree from the University of North Carolina Asheville. Follow her on Twitter @MaayanSchechter.