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Horry County WRP

Unique Wetlands Make a Comeback in Horry County

the rare carnivorous pitcher plant

by Amy M. Overstreet, USDA-NRCS Communications and Marketing Specialist

There is aunique area in Horry County, South Carolina, filled with abundant wildliferanging from wood ducks, turtles, turkeys, beavers, and bears to plant life thatincludes the rare carnivorous pitcher plant. What makes this area even moreintriguing is its classification as a Carolina Bay, an elliptical wetlanddepression. The origin of these uncanny wetlands has long been the center ofdebate and there is still not a definitive answer to the mystery of theircreation. Today, only ten percent of the original bays remain, having beendrained by loggers and farmers, but programs like NRCS’ Wetland ReserveProgram (WRP) provide cost-share to landowners to protect these areas. That’sjust what Harry McDowell of Horry, SC, did when he enrolled 447 acres ofwetlands into WRP under a permanent easement which provided 100 percentcost-share for restoration. Under the direction of NRCS District ConservationistAlex Johnson, the area was restored back to its original hydrology, or waterdepth, and two Carolina Bays brought back to life.

The hydrology was restored through the installation of 17,000 feet of dikesadjacent to ditches. As a result, "Shallow water habitats were also createdwhich provided permanent habitat for waterfowl and fauna," explainedJohnson. The South Carolina Waterfowl Association constructed wood duck nestingboxes that are having great success and are resulting in an increase in the duckpopulation. NRCS also improved existing roads around the rim of the bay. Afterthis site was restored, McDowell graciously donated the land to the Horry CountyConservation Foundation, a non-profit conservation land trust, which plans onusing the area as an educational center for Horry County schools. Under themanagement of the Foundation, the wetland area is thriving and promises to bringa lifetime of education, recreation, and enjoyment for Horry County residents.

The impact of this successful project was doubled when two areas immediatelyadjacent to the Carolina Bay were also restored. Two restorations werecompleted, one under WRP and one through a mitigation bank. The WRP siteincluded 200 acres of a Carolina Bay, and the mitigation bank consisted of 54acres of another Carolina Bay that was previously converted to pastureland. TheHorry County Conservation Foundation purchased the 54 acres of converted bay andrestored the hydrology and vegetation. As a result, a total of 700 acres ofconverted Carolina Bay area was restored

back to its original hydrology. The conservation foundation also plantedbi-color lespedeza for wildlife in appropriate upland areas.

NRCS Conservation Programs Specialist Glenn Sandifer praised this project forits many benefits. "This project makes a huge impact in the county becausethe three restored areas are close in proximity and all the easements arepermanent," he said. Johnson is also excited about the project, confirmingthat it will benefit not only the natural resources in the county but also theresidents. "By restoring this large tract of land back to its originalhydrology, we are providing an excellent environment for wetland education andresearch for Horry County residents." The conservation foundation iscurrently working to organize an education program allowing students to use therestored bays as an outdoor classroom.

Johnson emphasized that Carolina Bays are a high priority for naturalresource protection in South Carolina. They are extraordinary environments fullof rare amphibians and birds--many found nowhere else but in the mysteriousCarolina Bay.