TO PRESERVE AND PROTECT
“The Lands are laden with tall Oaks, Walnut and Bayes, except facing the Sea, where it is most Pines, tall and good. The country abounds with Grapes, large Figs, and Peaches, the woods with Deer, Conies, Turkey, Quails, Curlues, Teile, Herons; and, as the Indians say, in winter with Swans, Geese, Cranes, Duck and Mallard, and innumerable of other water Fowls. Also mussels in abundance, a sort of fair crabs, and a round shellfish called Horsefeet. The rivers are stored plentifully with fish that we saw play and leap.”
Thus wrote Captain William Hilton in the logbook of his barque Adventure in 1663. Hilton was probing the shores of latter–day North and South Carolina — an expedition funded by a group of businessmen from London and planters from Barbados.
Based on geographic detail provided by Hilton, historians are confident that he was describing the area from Daw’s Island in Port Royal Sound southward to the marshes of the May River, around what is known today as Palmetto Bluff.
Hilton and his crew thought they had stumbled upon a paradise, and indeed they had. More than 300 years later, the Palmetto Bluff property remained much as it was when Hilton described it. Although Union–Camp Company timbered pine plantations in the interior of the site, they reforested all of it and never touched anything along the 32 miles of waterfront on the May, Cooper and New Rivers.
And so, in year 2000, Crescent Resources was able to purchase a property of almost unbelievable environmental integrity. Its ecostructure had been carefully protected under the stewardship of Union–Camp, and since the only building on the property was the paper company’s original Hunting Lodge, rustically charming but impractical, it was clear from the start that nature should be more important than buildings on this land.
Recreational development of the Carolina Lowcountry began in earnest in the 1950’s and focused primarily on golf. Soon, it was obvious that the cart was pulling the horse — developers filled wetlands and clear–cut forests in the pursuit of higher density. There had to be a way to protect the lush maritime forests and winding tidal creeks that defined this spectacular geography of Palmetto Bluff.
To steer this mission, a “watchdog” agency, the Palmetto Bluff Conservancy, was founded in 2003. Its earliest initiative was protecting the vital ecosystem and spectacular natural beauty of the Cooper, May and New Rivers. Of these efforts, the Island Packet later said:
“In many ways, the degradation (of the May River) was forestalled by Palmetto Bluff’s decision to develop in a way even stricter than the town allowed under the original 1998 development agreement. In addition to the setbacks required in the sensitive headwaters areas, Palmetto Bluff’s developer, Crescent Resources, protected hundreds of acres under conservation easements and significantly reduced the number of homes to be built in the 20,600–acre tract that runs the length of the river across from old town Bluffton. Overall, the developer cut almost in half the number of homes mandated to be built there from 5,000 to about 2,600. The development that’s come closest to getting it right did much of it on its own!”
Many similar endeavors followed: delineation and protection of wetlands, maintenance of food plots for wildlife and, more recently, education of property owners on the benefits of “green” building and how to go about it.
Because of their efforts and many more, visitors to modern– day Palmetto Bluff can still enjoy the spectacular beauty of the May River, with its winding tidal creeks and lush archipelago of green hummocks. They can still view the ancient Maritime Forest of Live Oak and Palmetto — exactly as William Hilton did almost 400 years ago. And finally, they can still gaze upon the vast salt marshes and fresh water lagoons — habitat to a panoply of birds and mammals unsurpassed in America.
And thus — thanks to the Palmetto Bluff Conservancy — it will always remain.