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ACE Basin Conservation Celebrates 30 years

Ashepoo, Combahee, and Edisto Rivers were dubbed the ACE Basin. Like-minded conservation leaders knew that they wanted to protect the tapestry of land, water, and pluff mud that defines this zone of coastal South Carolina. The word conservation was not the same term that we think of today, regarding habitat preservation through legally binding easements. Conservation efforts started by private landowners were embraced by federal and state governments, leading to over 300,000-acres protected in the ACE Basin over the past 30 years.
The 20th Anniversary of the ACE Basin was held at Willtown Bluff Plantation on Sunday, November 22, 2009. Rainy and cold weather that day did not dampen the spirit of the outdoor enthusiasts, but the big tent under the grand live oaks did offer a measure of comfort. The 30th Anniversary of the ACE Basin event returned to Willtown Bluff on Sunday, December 8, with much more pleasant outdoor weather. The featured speaker in 2009 was Matt Connolly of Ducks Unlimited, and one of the speakers in 2019 was Senator Chip Campsen. No one conservation group or set of leaders can represent what truly is a collaborative effort to grow the ACE Basin.
The ACE Basin may become a blueprint for other areas in the United States to navigate where other conservation projects are warranted. South Carolina is home to a second grand scale conservation area, which encompasses from the Francis Marion National Forest up to the Santee Delta. These areas are well-known to hunters and anglers, birdwatchers, and Lowcountry locals, but they are also gathering newer acclaim and partnerships. Dominion Energy recently donated a $50,000 grant to DU in recognition of the ACE Basin. Governor Henry McMaster praises natural beauty as being one of the Palmetto State’s greatest assets. “The ACE Basin serves as a perfect example of what we can do when we collectively commit to being good stewards of the natural resources,” said McMaster.
Delving deeply into the history of the ACE Basin reveals that the large hallmark plantations had to survive uncertain economic times. When the culture of planting rice for profit declined in the late 1800s, many plantations changed hands over time and were fortuitously claimed by sportsmen. One example is Nemours Plantation, purchased by Eugene DuPont, a 10,000-acre spread on the Combahee River that was home to the 25th-anniversary celebration of the ACE Basin. Each riverfront property that is protected provides a huge dividend when it comes to the water quality in the rivers, sounds, and even the Atlantic Ocean.
Your humble correspondent has reported from many of the ACE Basin celebrations, and of all the stories I have absorbed from the various podium speakers, one stands out to me. Senator Fritz Hollings served as a U.S. Senator representing South Carolina from 1996 to 2005, and he sadly passed away in 2019. The story says that when the ACE Basin was being formed, Hollings enjoyed seniority in Washington D.C, and someone pointed out to him that we did not have a National Wildlife Refuge in our state. Hollings reply, “Let’s Get One.” Not only do we have the 12,000-acre ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge today, but his leadership also secured the ACE Basin National Estuarine Research Reserve to encompass the entire estuary.
As a lifelong birder in the Lowcountry, I can share that the ACE Basin could be even more important in the future for avian life. A few decades ago, when wood storks came to visit the Lowcountry, it was easy to pick them out from our usual flock of marsh birds. Questioning why these birds had appeared was not my first inclination, but over time I came to understand that South Carolina offers the climate and the habitat they prefer. Fast forward to birdwatching today, and the list of new visitors keeps growing to include roseate spoonbills, swallow-tailed kites, and even a whooping crane or two. Rest assured that wading birds, waterfowl, and shorebirds will always have a foothold in the Lowcountry due to conservation in the ACE Basin
Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at LowcountryOutdoors.com

Jeff Dennis
Jeff Dennis, Contributor (385 Posts)

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at www.LowcountryOutdoors.com