The City of Clemson puts sustainability at the forefront of conservation efforts

December 4th, 2023

Clemson has some exciting sustainability efforts underway and even more in the works. We spoke with Clemson Mayor Robert Halfacre and Urban and Park Land Management Director Tony Tidwell about what they’re working on in Clemson. In this Q&A, learn about how Clemson is improving habitat, greenspace, and water quality and how they’re using trees like a utility to combat the effects of climate change. From parks to trails and even habitat certification, Clemson is working to become a greener, more sustainable city.

See their sustainability brochure for more information on ongoing projects. 

Q&A with Mayor Robert Halfacre and Urban and Park Land Management Director Tony Tidwell

Clemson Mayor Robert Halfacre (left) and Clemson Urban and Park Land Management Director Tony Tidwell (right)

How long have you lived in Clemson?
Mayor Halfacre: I have lived in Clemson 45+ years (5 years in the low country)

Tony Tidwell: I've lived here 38 years.

What are your favorite green spaces in the area?
Mayor Halfacre: my favorite greenspaces in the City are Mt. View Park because of my childhood memories practicing running cross country on the trails. Also, Gateway Park because my son (Blake) completed his Eagle Scout Project there installing a bio-cell for storm water retention. Finally, Shanklin Sams because of our need for greenspace in our downtown area.  

Tony Tidwell: my favorite greenspaces are Shanklin Sams greenspace downtown because of the diversity of the trees and plants and the benefit of having a stand of hardwoods close to downtown (Vic Shelburne with Scout Troop 235 have been mitigating the invasive plants in the park for almost a decade). Also Mt. View Park for its preserved forest habitat, beautiful trails, and lakeside views.

We understand that the city has received funds from the SC Conservation Bank to create a 4-acre nature preserve. Can you tell us a bit about that project?
In 2022 the City of Clemson received a grant through the SC Conservation Bank to assist with purchasing 4.36 acres at 341 and 347 Issaqueena Trail. The City of Clemson’s primary focus for this park development project, named Berkeley Orchard, is to conserve green space in densely populated areas while providing an access point to the Green Crescent Trail. The trail will allow a safe multi-modal path for walking and other outdoor recreation activities and provide a connection to existing City Parks Lands, where it will serve as a hub to the North and South Forest. This will be a continuation of the Tottie’s Place Park trail, located directly across Berkeley Drive from the new property. The loop will have a combination of impervious and pervious trails. The City envisions the Berkeley Orchard to serve as an urban oasis for wildlife and passive recreations.

In the coming years, the City intends to continue encouraging wildlife habitat and travel corridors and develop “Habitat Forage” within the park. This is an idea that City staff discovered while auditing Professor Paul Russell’s Landscape Architecture Forest and Field Studio presentations at Lee Hall on the Clemson campus. The project will return the property to a more natural state using native plantings, fruit and nut bearing trees / shrubs, and pollinator meadows, while not inhibiting the floodplain. These native plantings will create more habitat and forage for humans, birds, pollinators, and other wildlife displaced by development.

In an effort to promote water quality, the City will establish riparian buffers and complete stream restoration projects along the 18-mile Creek. Low impact educational components like an outdoor classroom pavilion, interactive art pieces, and interpretive signage about the purpose of the area, plantings, and floodplains will also be included.

In the summer of 2022, the City of Clemson invited Professor Paul Russell’s Landscape Design class to work on design concepts for the park. The summer design course, Forest a Field Studio, collaborated with the City’s Urban & Park Land Management Department to prepare a series of conceptual plan studies that explored the potential of the space and how it could connect to an existing series of paths and become a central connector hub for future expansion of the GCT.

The collaboration between the studio and City staff was a reciprocal learning activity where each group listened, learned, and grew through the process. Highlighted by fruitful open and critical discussion, this exercise provided the students a hands-on ‘real-life’ learning experience while providing the city stakeholders a long term attainable vision and opening their eyes to the potential of the site.

What are Clemson's highest priority sustainability goals for the next few years?
Planting trees is the most important thing that we can do as a community. Our current overall tree canopy is hovering at 48% coverage. Our goal is to maintain and increase this number, not only to help balance the environmental impact of development but also to offset the overall negative impacts of the urban environment. Especially when the city is projected to have 11 times as many days over 100˚ F compared to the last 40 years. Currently our tree canopy mitigates 11.6 million gallons of storm water for every year, 79,577 lbs. of air pollutants are mitigated annually and 12,078 metric tons of carbon are sequestered every year. In a sense trees, act like a utility and we need them to continue to do this work to maintain a healthy community.

How are you educating the Clemson community about sustainability, and how can residents get involved in sustainability efforts?
The City’s Community Connection magazine is great for featuring City sustainable initiatives. One of the best ways we have to communicate sustainability is through the way we maintain greenspaces and parks. Sustainability is Maintenance. Maintenance is Communication. There are a lot of eyes on our public spaces so basing our maintenance strategies on ANSI A300 Standards and Best Management Practices is a great way to communicate sustainable practices to the public. We also have a Friends of the Park volunteer program with an online sign-up option for anyone who would like to participate in a clean-up or maintenance project in our parks and public greenspaces. The Urban Department alone picked up 3500 lbs. of litter last year so we need volunteers to help keep the City clean. Participation has been great from our highly engaged community.

What are some of Clemson's current sustainability projects in the works?
The City just completed phase one of the Green Crescent Trail which now intentionally ties in the University new trail on Perimeter Rd.

This year we started the “Grow A Greener Clemson” campaign. The campaign began in January by partnering with Trees Upstate to have a tree giveaway at Nettles Park. We gave away 362 trees. Next, we partnered with Clemson Downs and Trees Upstate to have a tree planting event on private property. We had 50+ volunteers and planted 20 trees. We will be holding 3 tree planting SC Arbor Day Events on December 1st and another Trees Upstate Tree giveaway at Clemson Park on December 2nd where we plan to give away 300 trees. We will also be hosting another tree planting on Dec 9th with The Friends of Green Crescent Trails and Trees Upstate to plant 30 trees behind the Clemson United Methodist Church along the new stretch of trail.

Other projects include establishing intentional native meadows for pollinators for the Monarch USA accreditation. The Department of Urban Land and Park Management is currently in the process of establishing the City of Clemson as a Certified National Wildlife Habitat through the National Wildlife Federation. Wildlife is our native flora and fauna including birds, bees, and butterflies. The City of Clemson can earn community/city-wide certification as a National Wildlife Habitat by certifying individual properties (homes, schools, businesses, and others) as Certified Wildlife Habitats.

A Certified Wildlife Habitat should be a sustainable area that provides food, water, cover, and places to raise young. Planting native plants is the easiest way and initial building block to creating a wildlife habitat. Currently, we need approximately 100 more individual areas in Clemson to become Certified Wildlife Habitat to meet the city-wide requirements.

How do the City and University work together to make Clemson a more sustainable place?
We have worked together with the Clemson Extension Service several for years on the Bradford Pear Tree Bounty project where we give away native trees to anyone who cuts down a Bradford Pear tree on their property. This helps spread the word about the invasive nature of this toxic tree.

We have numerous student projects from the Landscape Architecture class developing conceptual plans for Berkeley Orchard to the PRTM class developing master plans for Twelve Mile Park to the PRTM EDGE students developing conceptual plans for Clemson Park. We have offered presentations to the Urban Tree Care Class, Sustainability Leadership Class, Clemson Extension Arborist Workshops, and the Sustainability Committee. We are a member of the Tree Campus USA board. We have collaborated to develop preferred plant and tree lists for the City and University. We’ve had numerous internships, and our Friends of the Park volunteer program works with hundreds of students and University organizations every year to help clean and maintain our parks and greenspaces.

Thank you to Mayor Halfacre and Tony Tidwell for taking the time to answer our questions about the City of Clemson's sustainability projects. 

If you would like to learn more about the City of Clemson's sustainability projects, check out their sustainability brochure or visit the Urban and Park Land Management website and the City of Clemson website

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