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June 22nd, 2023
By Lauren Ulich
Over a year ago, Upstate Forever’s Land Conservation team launched a new initiative to bring additional resources for improved land management to conservation easement landowners. Since our initial pilot project in Oconee County, we have continued to develop partnerships, seek funding sources, and identify new restoration projects on permanently protected lands. The recent launch of the Palmetto Conservation Corps Summer Crew perfectly aligned with our program expansion and offered a new opportunity to engage with our future leaders in conservation while protecting important natural resources in the Upstate.
Conestee Nature Preserve served as the perfect location to host the six summer crew members. Just miles from the heart of downtown Greenville, the preserve provides accessible and inclusive access to nature and hosts a variety of habitat types that support an impressive suite of wildlife including salamanders, deer, beaver, river otters and 224 species of birds. The backdrop of this unique peri-urban park enabled the crew to work in several different ecological communities while also interfacing with the park’s curious visitors.
We worked alongside Conestee staff to host the Summer Crew for a week of habitat improvement projects in the preserve’s grasslands and bottomland forest. To optimize the crew’s impact, we prioritized working in areas previously identified by Furman University professor Dr. John Quinn, as having the highest bird diversity. Additionally, the work was guided by the Preserve’s long-term management plan objectives. During the week of work, the hardworking crew worked diligently to manage invasive species in three high-priority focal areas: The Henderson Meadow, Forester Meadow and the bottomland forest along the Sparkleberry Connector trail.
The results of this partner project were significant — over 5 acres of Bradford pear, Chinese privet, autumn olive and nandina were eradicated from Conestee Nature Preserve! Removal of these aggressive and ecologically damaging exotic plants prevents the displacement of the preserve’s native grasses, wildflowers, and shrubs over time and supports the birds, butterflies and other wildlife that are entirely reliant on intact and healthy ecosystems for survival. Beyond the beneficial impacts to biodiversity, this restoration work improved areas frequently used for educational programming, ensuring that kids of all ages can continue to explore and experience these beautiful and unique parts of the Preserve.
We are grateful to have had the opportunity to collaborate with the staff at Conestee Nature Preserve and the Palmetto Conservation Corps this summer and anticipate partnering on future habitat enhancement projects in the years to come. As this program builds momentum, we look forward to sharing more opportunities, resources, and successes with our supporters.