November 11, 2019|By Val Keefer| Land

Preserving the Integrity of Love Farm for Youth Recreation

To honor the Love family’s long-term stewardship of this land, SCDNR has named it Love Farm Wildlife Management Area and Nat Love Youth Special Hunt Area. At a recent event held on Love Farms, SCDNR, The Conservation Fund, Michael Love, and other partners and supporters celebrated the conservation victory and future uses of the land. Before the celebration, we connected with Michael to learn more about his experience and goals for protecting the farm.

11 11 19 Love Farms SC Jason Johnson 170755The property contains over three miles of frontage on the Wateree River. Photo by Jason Johnson.

Can you tell us a little bit about your family’s history with this land?

Michael Love: The farm initially was purchased by my father, grandfather, and uncle back in 1965. It was specifically for my dad, but he just couldn't afford the whole thing by himself at the time. It was an old cattle ranch, but it had beautiful upland and wetland features, which is what appealed to my dad so much. He was an avid hunter and sportsman and just a real steward of the land.

My dad was so old fashioned with his hunting. For example, something like a deer feeder would never be allowed on the farm; he would never let folks use artificial calling or methods like that on the property. However, if you wanted to go scout and hunt, you were more than welcome to, but it had to be within the rules and you had to be a ‘hunter, not a shooter.’ So the farm, I would say, was his greatest life’s passion. He was also a successful businessman here in town, but his passion was that farm, and he worked on it every day for probably 30 or 40 years.

11 11 19 Love Farms SC Michael Love 23253 1An aerial view of Love Farm. Photo by Michael Love.

And how did you, personally like to use the property?

Michael: So when I inherited the property, I started doing these youth hunting activities, called the Gold Star Teen Adventures together with the SCDNR. The Gold Star youth are kids ages 11-18 who have lost a parent or guardian while serving our country through active military duty. In the program, we take the kids out into nature and we teach them skills like scuba diving, hunting and fishing, hiking, ropes courses, mud runs and other things like that. I was looking for a new volunteer opportunity, and a friend said he was working with a new organization called Gold Star Teen Adventures and he asked if I’d be interested in working with some of the teenagers and taking them out on the farm. I just loved the idea and was so excited about it. And when I actually met some of the kids, I just fell in love with them and the whole program.

The SCDNR loaned the kids equipment like tree stands and harnesses, because I didn’t have all of that. They’d come out for the gun safety courses which was great. Being out in the woods and in a tree stand with a kid, it’s about more than hunting, it gives them a safe space to talk too. And the coolest thing about this program is that when the kids turn 18 and go to college, they’ll end up coming back and becoming mentors for new kids each season. I just really feel like this program and this farm made their lives better.

11 11 19 20191108 094632Photo by Jason Johnson.

So what made you decide to sell to The Conservation Fund?

Michael: A friend of mine with SCDNR recently started talking to me about the farm. When he first approached me about the state potentially buying it some years back, I just didn’t think it’d ever happen. The land had sentimental value to me and I thought it’d be too challenging. So then he put me directly in touch with The Conservation Fund. I wanted the state to end up with the land, so the Fund was able to accommodate that while making it quick and easy, because the necessary state and federal funding* were already available. It was amazing, quite frankly; it was truly a win-win situation. These public funding sources made it possible for me to conserve my land as a state wildlife management area for future generations, rather than selling it for development.

I wanted the opportunity to bring the Gold Star kids back sometimes to do hunts, and now I’ll be able to. Deer hunting was never my passion like my father and brother. But I did fall in love with turkey hunting, and I fell in love with scouting deer with the kids and teaching them how to hunt. 

11 11 19 dedicationAt a recent event held on Love Farms, Michael Love (fourth from left) was joined by attendees from SCDNR, The Conservation Fund and other partners to celebrate the conservation victory and future uses of the land. Photo by SCDNR.

Do you feel your goals for the property have been met?

Michael: If I was still the landowner, I would use it mainly for youth activities, but SCDNR is doing a great job of continuing that. The land’s going to be used almost exclusively for deer and turkey hunting, but there’ll also be other recreational areas for non-hunters to enjoy, which is great. I think there's a lot of people in town that have never been able to experience the farm and it's a really beautiful piece of property.

What I never wanted to see was a golf course or development go up there. To avoid that, we actually put an easement on a portion of the farm years ago, before working with The Conservation Fund, while my dad was still around. I thought he would go crazy because he never wanted to take money from anyone or put any restrictions on the land. But he actually loved the idea, which was appealing to me because you want to keep your family's wishes going if you can. I understand sentimental value is not from a dollar amount, but this farm is very close to me and I wasn’t going to sell it to just anybody. It wasn't about the money as much as making sure the farm stayed open and unharmed. Hopefully I'll be able to go out there in five or 10 years, walk around, and it will look exactly same; it’ll be just as beautiful. And I truly believe it will.

* SCDNR’s purchase of Love Farms was made possible with funding from: the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Program, which allows for money from a pre-existing federal tax on firearms and ammunition to be distributed to the States and territories for the conservation, management and restoration of wildlife and habitat; the State of South Carolina; the S.C. National Wild Turkey Federation; and the Department of Defense’s Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration (REPI) Program, which supports federal-state-private partnerships to remove or avoid land-use conflicts near military installations to help sustain critical military mission capabilities. Love Farms is located within the REPI priority area for the Midlands Area Joint Installation Consortium, which was formed in 2007 in response to a pressing need to protect training resources at Fort Jackson, Shaw Air Force Base, McEntire Joint National Guard Base, Poinsett Bombing Range, and McCrady Training Center. REPI funding is appropriated annually by the U.S. Congress with support from South Carolina’s Congressional delegation representing Love Farms: U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, and U.S. Representative James Clyburn.

Written By

Valerie Keefer

As Media Relations Associate for The Conservation Fund, Val conducts media outreach, drives press activities and supports messaging strategies across the organization. She enjoys sharing the Fund’s holistic approach to environmental conservation and economic growth with the community and communicating the local and global impact of the Fund’s many projects. Val is an avid nature enthusiast who loves camping, hiking and rock climbing.