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March 7th, 2022
By Caitlyn Smith Gendusa
We live in a time when strip malls and other commercial businesses are the norm, so it might be surprising to hear that businesses can merge conservation and commercial use on the same property. Vaughn Smith, who protected his 120-acre property through a conservation easement with Upstate Forever in 2020, has spent the last forty years revitalizing once barren farmland and transforming it into his paintball business, Red Fox Games, in Woodruff, SC. Red Fox Games exemplifies the benefits of combining commercial use with conservation by providing visitors with an enjoyable past time while becoming more connected to the surrounding environment and forests.
When Smith purchased the property in 1980, it had been intensely farmed and then laid idle for thirty years. Farming caused tremendous erosion leading to gullies, one of which was twenty feet deep. During frequent storms, the property’s tributary streams from the South Tyger River eroded topsoil into the nearby creek. To alleviate these environmental concerns, a dam was constructed in 2003. The resulting ten-acre lake has never been artificially stocked and contains large amounts of bluegill, porch bass, and other game fish — diversity likely due to the undisturbed aquatic habitat.
After addressing erosion issues, Vaughn spent the next few years cutting invasive non-native trees, such as Chinaberry. The property was terraced in some areas to eliminate the gullies, and in other areas Vaughn replanted with Loblolly pines. A testament to Vaughn’s hard work restoring the natural environment occurred when a hurricane poured five inches of heavy rain and left the newly replanted property with zero washouts or erosion.
Satisfied with his restoration success, Vaughn sought a way to maintain the property’s natural resources while also producing income. That was when he decided to open his paintball business, Red Fox Games. To maintain the ecological balance his restoration established, Vaughn only uses biodegradable paintball pellets and keeps customers in designated paintball fields to reduce environmental impact. Any fallen or rotten trees are reused as barricades for paintball participants. Due in part to the tremendous amount of time people are spending outdoors during the pandemic, Vaughn continues to see record numbers each year, with some years having up to 8,000 customers.
Vaughn, who grew up in the flatlands of Texas, always knew that he wanted to own forestland. Opening a business that could take advantage of the property’s natural state to help pay for the property’s restoration was something Vaughn did not know was possible. While Vaughn says it is disheartening to see local tracts bought up for small residential lots, he is encouraged by the number of people who visit Red Fox Farm to enjoy its surrounding nature. Thanks to the easement Vaughn established with Upstate Forever, his property's forestland is preserved in perpetuity, and visitors can enjoy this scenic paintball destination for a long time to come.
Red Fox Games was put into a conservation easement with Upstate Forever in 2021. To visit the property, visit redfoxgames.com and schedule a paintball session.