Saving a Laurens County landmark
Culbertson Mill Protected
Upstate Forever partners with landowner to protect historic mill and community recreational resource
Project made possible with funding from the South Carolina Conservation Bank
Area residents and conservation advocates celebrated a conservation success story Thursday evening in Ware Shoals. Culbertson Mill is a scenic, historic, agricultural and natural resource in Ware Shoals, Laurens County.
Known as Ekom Beach to locals, generations of families have hunted, fished, and swam there. Thanks to the actions of Dianne Culbertson and her son Chad, they can still enjoy those activities today.
Back in the 1800s, Young Jehu Culbertson, the great-grandfather of Dianne’s late husband, owned and operated Culbertson Mill on the Reedy River. This special place came under threat in 2014 when it went up for auction. So when the Culbertsons heard of the imminent sale, they borrowed against their savings to bring the property back into the family and secure its future.
“This land is just as it has been for 200 years,” said Dianne Culbertson. “I want it to remain as it is – natural and beautiful – a part of God’s bounty.”
With the help of funding from the South Carolina Conservation Bank, the Culbertsons permanently protected the land with a conservation agreement held by Upstate Forever, ensuring the 108 acres will always remain essentially as they are today.
The Culbertsons are true conservation champions – Dianne serves on Upstate Forever’s Board of Directors, and Culbertson Mill is their fourth conservation agreement protecting significant land in the region.
The South Carolina Conservation Bank is the only statewide source of public funding available for willing landowners and their land trust partners (such as Upstate Forever) to voluntarily conserve important lands in South Carolina.
The Conservation Bank is funded by a fraction of the state deed-recording fee that is collected every time property is bought and sold in South Carolina. Funding therefore varies from year to year, depending on real estate activity. Of every $1.35 collected by the state, $0.25 is credited to the Conservation Bank Trust Fund. Unfortunately, there is often a battle at the State House to have those funds actually allocated to the Bank during the annual budgeting process.
Since 2004, the Bank has helped protect over 266,000 acres of important natural and historic resources across the state at a cost of only $508 per acre. Actual land values are typically much higher, but the Bank provides the opportunity to leverage private and federal investments for the public benefit.
Through its competitive grant process, the Bank has helped to make possible a number of Upstate Forever’s conservation projects, including Nine Times in Pickens County and Lake Conestee Nature Park in Greenville. This year, Upstate Forever adds Culbertson Mill in Laurens County and the 315-acre Hickory Hills property in Union County to the list. These owners of these properties could not have afforded to protect them without this critical funding source.
The Bank is currently set to expire in 2018 unless reauthorized by the General Assembly. Upstate Forever and other conservation groups are advocating for legislation to stabilize and enhance the South Carolina Conservation Bank by making the program permanent, increasing its funding, and removing the “death clause” that zeroes out funding in lean budget years.
While most lands protected with Bank funding are accessible to the public, every acre protected, whether public or private, provides a public benefit: keeping working farms and forests in production, maintaining water quality and quantity, reducing flooding, enriching wildlife habitat, supporting clean air, providing outdoor recreation, protecting historic sites, and attracting tourism.