- Our Work
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May 10th, 2023
Founded in 1998 by attorney Brad Wyche, Upstate Forever has spent the past 25 years forging relationships with business leaders, municipalities, elected officials, community advocates, and fellow conservation organizations. We are proud of our accomplishments, and are honored to continue to serve the Upstate by working to protect its land, water, and special character.
However, we could not do any of this important work without you — our generous supporters, funders, and advocates. You are the reason for the success stories that follow. These are just a few of the highlights (in no particular order) that you've made possible over the last 25 years.
It’s safe to say the Prisma Health Swamp Rabbit Trail has been a game-changer for Greenville County, enhancing quality of life and bringing $9.5 million to the community annually. Upstate Forever played an essential role in securing and opening the trail, as well as catalyzing an extension from downtown to CU-IAR. We continue to actively engage in land use conversations for development around the trail corridor, including the Greenville Development Code. To further support active transit in Greenville, UF also established and operated the Greenville B-cycle program until it was transferred to another system operator in 2019.
As our region grows, the key to timely and effective conservation is funding. Through the years, UF and our partners have advocated successfully for significant funding for conservation at the local, state, federal, and private giving levels. Some examples are the enactment of hospitality taxes in Greenville and Spartanburg Counties to fund parks and greenways; the Oconee County Conservation Bank, the Greenville County Historic and Natural Resources Trust, and the Upstate Land Conservation Fund — that’s millions in funding that goes directly to local Upstate projects.
In 2008, UF became the first land trust in South Carolina to receive official national recognition, a distinction granted by the Land Trust Alliance to recognize land conservation organizations that demonstrates sound finances, ethical conduct, responsible governance, and lasting stewardship. Less than 30% of land trusts have earned accreditation, so we are proud we have achieved it and continue to maintain it.
Since Upstate Forever was founded, our team has conducted more than 2,600 monitoring visits. Stewardship allows UF to maintain the conservation agreement with landowners and ensures the permanent protection of a special property through an ongoing relationship between the land and its owners. Our expert Land Trust staff visits each property annually to ensure its conservation values — the natural resources under protection — remain intact.
A conservation easement is a voluntary agreement that honors a landowner’s vision for their property and ensures the land is preserved in perpetuity from large-scale development. Over the years, our Land Trust has partnered with generous landowners, funders, and partner nonprofits to enact 145 conservation agreements that permanently protect more than 30,000 acres of our region’s most critical lands. From the cove forests of the Blue Ridge Escarpment to the working farms of the Piedmont, these are critical properties that safeguard water quality and provide natural habitat. They are also iconic places that attract, teach, heal, and inspire. Here is a sampling of just some of these special places.
With our regional conservation partners, we have also played a significant role in protecting an additional 1,500 acres across eight properties.
The Upstate is a remarkably biodiverse area — did you know that the Blue Ridge Escarpment has more tree species than all of Europe? Unfortunately, habitat for our native plants and wildlife is often particularly sensitive to development and water quality deterioration. UF works strategically to provide healthy, intact habitat and corridors for local species:
UF helped mobilize public opposition to stop Duke Energy’s proposed substation and 45-mile-long transmission line across the Foothills and Blue Ridge Mountains of the Upstate. The project would have marred the beauty and integrity of an ecologically sensitive landscape, and better options were available to provide effective services. We were able to work with Duke on an alternative solution to install solar facilities and promote energy efficiency. It was a true win-win!
By 1999, Lake Greenwood was plagued by pollutants (causing algal blooms thick enough for turtles to walk on!) from upstream sources. UF managed one of the most comprehensive watershed studies ever undertaken in the country to find solutions, and then led implementation of those solutions throughout the Saluda-Reedy Watershed. The result? Significant water quality improvements that allow residents to continue to use and enjoy Lake Greenwood.
When the lands within a watershed are protected and properly managed, it helps maintain water quality, reduce flooding, and increase property values. Thanks to funding from SCDHEC, our Clean Water Team has, over the years, analyzed data and created five strategic watershed-based plans to improve water quality in the Saluda; North/ Middle, and South Tyger, 3&20 Creek, and Lake Keowee watersheds. We also implement these plans through best management practices that tackle bacteria, sediment, and nutrition pollution. To date, that includes 123 septic system repairs, 1,100 feet of streambank restored, 11,475 feet of livestock fencing, 65 acres of conservation cover crops, 8 pet waste stations, and more.
In 2014, the Kinder Morgan pipeline in Belton, SC ruptured and spilled more than 369,000 gallons of gasoline into the surrounding environment. UF partnered with the Southern Environmental Law Center and Savannah Riverkeeper to file a Clean Water Act lawsuit against Kinder Morgan to ensure adequate cleanup, a process that took years and went as far as the US Supreme Court. Kinder Morgan eventually settled for $1.5 million. The Anderson Water Council was then established to oversee the distribution of settlement funds for projects that improve watershed health and community engagement in Anderson County.
With support from the Callie and John Rainey Foundation and other partners, UF led coordination of blueway trail mapping throughout SC to catalyze river access across the Upstate. This project connects paddlers of all skill levels to the best water recreation sites across the state via www.PaddleSC.com. We are also proud to have worked with SCDHEC and the Clemson Center for Watershed Excellence to help establish SC Adopt-A-Stream, a citizen-science program that trains residents to monitor water quality in their local waterways.
Between 1955 and 1977, a manufacturing plant discharged over 400,000 pounds of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a highly toxic chemical, into a tributary of Twelve Mile River, resulting in widespread contamination in the river and Lake Hartwell. Alongside the Lake Hartwell Association and Pickens Soil and Water Conservation District, UF successfully advocated for implementation of the federal court’s consent decree to remove PCB-contaminated sediment and two dams on the river.
When an unnecessary and redundant mega-landfill was proposed in Spartanburg County in 2005, we joined efforts to successfully stop its development, in addition to promoting waste reduction and recycling through collection events for household hazardous waste and pharmaceuticals.
From the beginning, UF has recognized that conservation and land use policy go hand in hand. While this kind of advocacy can be slow-moving and incremental, it is essential to our future if we want to balance growth with other community priorities like greenspace and affordable housing. We celebrate the successful policies UF has advocated for, including:
UF and partners released a landmark Upstate Growth Study conducted by Clemson University’s Strom Thurmond Institute in 2008, followed by another eye-opening growth alternatives analysis in 2016 – both highlighting the trade-offs of various growth choices and what our region will look like decades from now if current development patterns and policies remain unchanged. Long story short: the studies found that the Upstate is consuming land at an alarming rate, and it is imperative that we explore alternatives to this sprawling growth pattern.
Coalition work is an important aspect of our work, especially as part of collective advocacy. To more effectively advance better land use policies, we partnered with local stakeholders to establish Impact Greenville, a diverse coalition working to shape public policy at the intersection of housing, transportation, and land use. Impact Greenville also hosts thought-provoking community education events to advocate for policy change.
UF is dedicated to demystifying the land use planning process for local residents. Since 2019, we’ve engaged over 250 Greenville residents in Citizens Planning Academies, advocacy trainings, and postcard-writing social events. The academies help residents navigate the policy making process and give them the tools to influence it.
From 2012-2015, UF hosted the quarterly Active Living event series based in Spartanburg County and sponsored by the Mary Black Foundation. The series was designed to encourage community dialogue about policies and infrastructure that promote physical activity to improve public health.
Following UF’s first-ever capital campaign, we completed the LEED Platinum-certified renovation of our Greenville office meeting EarthCraft green building standards. This project set an example for the adaptation of existing structures to meet modern, environmentally-conscious standards. Our office, located at 507 Pettigru Street, features: a roof made of sustainably-harvested wood and treated with a nontoxic preservative that prevents decay, reclaimed heart pine flooring from three Upstate textile mills, solar panels that provide about a quarter of our electrical power, a “green roof,” native plant landscaping, and rain barrels for irrigation.
UF works at the state level to reduce unnecessary energy infrastructure while we lay the groundwork for a regulatory and policy environment that encourages clean renewable energy, energy storage, demand side management, and energy efficiency in the most flexible and cost-effective manner possible. Some energy successes:
UF worked with the Southern Environmental Law Center to secure a voluntary agreement with Duke Energy in 2015 for the excavation of the Lee Steam Station coal ash ponds located along the Saluda River in Anderson County. We also helped with the effort to stop a proposed coal ash landfill in Pickens County.
We act as a watchdog for harmful pipeline projects and advocate for accountability between pipeline companies and local communities. UF has worked with residents to vet pipeline plans and oppose unnecessary ones, including a line proposed by Piedmont Natural Gas in 2020 and 2021 in sensitive ecosystems and working lands in Northern Greenville County.
UF has been working with the SC Office of Resilience and other advocates on the new agency’s task force to develop the State Resilience Plan which would apply policies that benefit Upstate communities, including nature-based solutions and strategic land conservation.
Known as “forever chemicals,” PFAS — toxic per and polyfluoroalkyl substances — are found widely throughout SC’s water supply. In recent years, UF has been investigating PFAS contamination in Upstate drinking water systems and working with SCDHEC and advocates to develop legislation and regulations to protect citizens from exposure.
In 2017, we successfully appealed a proposed 254-home subdivision that would have forever altered the character, landscape, and hydrology of Glassy Mountain, a Pickens County icon. We worked with the landowners and community members to realize a conservation solution, and the mountain view will remain intact for all to enjoy.
We are excited about the future, and are already working on some new initiatives that will continue to transform the Upstate while protecting its natural resources and enhancing quality of life. Here are a few projects and focus areas we have in store: