Along that lakeshore is Liberty Hill, an undeveloped area of high ridges, forests and giant boulders the size of school buses that have earned the area the nickname of “Devil’s Backbone.” Liberty Hill’s forestland includes native longleaf pine, hardwood coves, mixed pine-hardwood slopes, loblolly pine ridgetops and open meadows that provide habitat for numerous wildlife species.
In 2006 Duke Energy sold a choice 3,452- acre parcel of undeveloped shoreline at Liberty Hill to a developer with grand plans to create exclusive homes with expansive grounds, guest houses and pools, hoping to attract wealthy homebuyers from Charlotte, NC, a major financial center a little over an hour away. Then came the recession of 2008, and no one was buying $900,000 homes. The developer put Liberty Hill back on the market in early 2011.
When Liberty Hill became available, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) turned to The Conservation Fund for help in negotiating purchase of the property from the developer. We put together the financing — including $1.5 million from the South Carolina Conservation Bank — to purchase Liberty Hill and bought the property in December 2013. Additional funding came from the South Carolina Heritage Trust Fund, Lancaster County Water Recreation Fund, Lancaster County Game and Fish Fund and the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration. We sold the first 1,628 acres to SCDNR in April 2014, and hope to transfer the remaining acres to the agency sometime in 2016 with funding from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.
WHY THIS PROJECT MATTERS
The purchase of Liberty Hill protects 14 miles of water frontage from future development. Because the property joins another 1,500 acres of SCDNR land to the north, the project created a total of 18-20 miles of lake frontage that will remain undeveloped. This means that the area’s drinking water, wildlife habitat, woodland ecosystems, recreational resources and extraordinary ridge-top views will benefit the public for generations to come.
Under active timber management since 1959, the tract also will continue to be a working forest, with selective thinning and prescribed fire to enhance plant and animal habitat. SCDNR also plans to reintroduce native longleaf and shortleaf pine to Liberty Hill’s forests.
“Not only does this acquisition protect water quality and the scenic viewshed, but it also provides the public with additional lands to enjoy outdoor recreational activities. We are thankful for our partners who assisted in this project and especially for The Conservation Fund’s efforts in negotiating and purchasing the property.”
—Alvin Taylor, Director, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources
South Carolina State Director, Conservation Acquisition