Named by National Geographic as one of “50 of the World’s Last Great Places,” Jocassee Gorges truly is a destination of a lifetime. Its contrasting elevations create an abundance of waterfalls, some of which are the highest in the southeastern U.S. These cold waters also account for half of the wild trout streams in the state. The forested sides of the gorges shelter black bears, bobcats, bald eagles, peregrine falcons and 60 rare plant species.
Throughout the 1900s, Jocassee Gorges was privately owned, first by timber companies and later by the Duke Energy company, who began acquiring large parcels of land in the region to expand its hydroelectricity operations. Recognizing the gorges’ scenic beauty and recreational value, Duke Energy allowed the public to access the land. They had been good stewards of the land during its ownership, but the gorges’ future remained uncertain.
A Major Conservation EffortAfter a multi-year effort, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources succeeded in purchasing 32,000 acres of Duke Energy’s property in Jocassee Gorges in 1997. The state’s funding for the $54.8 million purchase was supplemented with a crucial $10 million donation from the Richard King Mellon Foundation, assisted by the Conservation Fund, and a land donation from Duke Energy valued at $33.8 million. Duke Energy also agreed to give up its development rights on nearby lands through a permanent conservation easement.
The Duke Energy lands, combined with other conservation lands in adjacent North Carolina and Georgia, provide protection for about 150,000 acres associated with South Carolina's Blue Ridge Escarpment and its watersheds. Within that area, The Conservation Fund has helped protect land at Sassafras Mountain – South Carolina’s highest point – and is leading an effort to create a new, 8,000-acre state forest adjacent to Jocassee Gorges in North Carolina that contains the last unprotected section of the storied Foothills Trail.
Why This Project MattersThe protection of Duke Energy lands at Jocassee Gorges is perhaps the most significant conservation transaction in the region. It was the hallmark of a conservation movement in the area, which continues to grow, and it illustrates successful cooperation between large corporations and the community. More land continues to be protected, ensuring this natural marvel will capture the outdoor spirit of future generations.
“This project is an excellent example of the power of partnership. …we believe that good business practice and good environmental stewardship are not mutually exclusive.”-- Richard B. Priory, Duke Energy Chairman and Chief Executive Officer