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ACE Basin 25th Anniversary: A Quarter-Century of the ACE Basin Conservation Project

ACE Basin: Live Oak overlook near the Combahee River and Ashepoo River in the heart of Colleton County.

The Lowcountry blends a unique diversity of saltwater marine environs, classic uplands and freshwater rivers filtered by swamps of hardwood bottomland. Wildlife Habitat 101 teaches that having these ecosystems adjacent to each other creates an edge effect where nature can flourish. While the Ashepoo, Combahee and Edisto Rivers have been flowing through the Lowcountry for eons, the formation of the ACE Basin conservation project helps to raise awareness about why it’s worthy of protection.

It’s always good to mark the passage of time, as in most things only get better over time. The year 1989 saw the Lowcountry devastated by Hurricane Hugo, especially the Francis Marion National Forest just north of Charleston. Vast areas of natural resources were laid flat during that hurricane, and it was just the most recent reminder that coastal S.C. is vulnerable the fury of Mother Nature’s winds.

Also credited in 1989 is the formation of the ACE Basin, a meeting of the minds among conservationists, landowners and duck hunters. A Chicago businessman named Gaylord Donnelly owned plantation lands along the Ashepoo River below Highway 17 South in Colleton County, and he honored his family’s love for the area by acting to preserve it.

By chance, I was recently in the Windy City and saw the skyscraper downtown where the Donnelly company is located. The Donnelly business recently celebrated 150 years of success by ringing the opening bell for the NASDAQ stock market on October 21. The ACE Basin conservation project will one day surpass the century mark, but for now it is a time to reflect on the first 25 years, and to recognize that no one man can represent the true group effort that fuels the ACE Basin. Of course, leaders will emerge over time to hold the reigns and instill the charge to continue on a course towards future preservation.

It’s a similar story with national conservation groups, state agencies and county leaders. They have all played a role thus far and many will be expected to continue to add their efforts to the tapestry of conservation that is being patched together like a grand quilt of conservation. Ducks Unlimited has been involved since the beginning and their goal of stabilizing wetland habitat in the Lowcountry is an admirable one.

DU has willing partners such the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, the ACE Basin Task Force and more than 150 private landowners who placed a conservation easement on their properties to limit development in these natural areas. A celebration for the 20th Anniversary of the ACE Basin was held in Nov. 2009 at Willtown Bluff Plantation on the Edisto River. Rainy and cold weather did not dampen the celebration that day since those that love and support the ACE Basin are outdoor enthusiasts, the same types that don’t cancel a day in the field due to poor weather.

As we approach the 25th Anniversary gathering at Nemours Plantation on the Combahee River, the media have responded with articles by the Associated Press, and a photo-essay and story in the November issue of National Geographic magazine. It seems that as the South’s population continues to swell the blueprint for the ACE Basin is being emulated and copied by others. All of the accolades and attention tell this observer, and lifelong Lowcountry resident, that Colletonians need to embrace the ACE Basin with renewed emphasis since it literally is our backyard.

For instance, not everyone in Colleton County is a waterfowl hunter, but in 2014 Ducks Unlimited named the ACE Basin as one of the Top 15 Great Places to Hunt Waterfowl, citing a mixture of freshwater and brackish marshes. They also cite both private historic rice plantations and public state management areas contributing to one of the most important areas in the south Atlantic Flyway. Duck hunting in South Carolina was excellent in the past, and as long as the habitat remains intact, it’s only a matter of time until the Lowcountry is once again a focus of duck migration.

Earlier in 2014 the Lowcountry gained a leadership position with DU when Mike McShane was elected to their National Board of Directors. As former chair of the SCDNR Board and Emeritus Director of the Nemours Wildlife Foundation, McShane is a waterfowl advocate and conservationist. McShane and wife Gigi carry on the legacy of conservation work started by the late Eugene DuPont III at Nemours.

For some, stewardship of Lowcountry lands has been going on for generations. Many families in Colleton County are small private landowners who have acted responsibly for 100 years or more to protect their rural heritage. The success of the ACE Basin conservation project is the involvement of public partners working together to advance the quality of life for both humans and nature. The passage of time is non-negotiable, but protecting an environment for all-time takes a continuous message of education and outreach for those who would listen and lead.

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


Jeff Dennis, Contributor (360 Posts)

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