WRP Restores and Protect Wateree Floodlands Memorial Forest
A Wetland Forever: Wetlands Reserve Program Easement Will Restore and Protect Wateree Floodlands Memorial Forest
By Amy O. Maxwell, SC NRCS
Tucked away just west of the Wateree River on both sides of the Kershaw/Richland County border is an exceptional forest brimming with life. It’s quiet in this bottomland hardwood, formerly called English Swamp, but officially known as the Wateree Floodlands Memorial Forest. But don’t let that fool you. There is plenty to see, hear, smell, and experience in this pristine 2000+ acre area owned by the Guy family of Boykin, SC. Not only can you witness a new species of plant life, you can also gaze up at a massive 148-foot tall state champion willow oak (with a circumference of 21.5 feet!). And to top it all off, the forest will be protected forever thanks to a Wetland Reserve Program (WRP) easement. WRP is a voluntary program of the Farm Bill that offers landowners the opportunity to protect, restore, and enhance wetlands on their property. The Guy family worked with conservationists at the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to enroll nearly 1,450 acres of their property in WRP, and will receive technical and financial assistance to restore the hydrology of the area. The resulting restoration plan will help achieve the greatest wetland functions and values, along with optimum wildlife habitat, on every acre enrolled. Because of the long-term conservation practices being implemented, this area will be permanently protected and enjoyed by the Guy family for generations to come.
WRP SITE HOME TO NEW TRILLIUM SPECIES SC NRCS
Wildlife Biologist Sudie Daves Thomas visited the WRP site in March 2008 and came across an interesting plant. “I found a Trillium species in bloom, and then learned that a botanist had discovered a specimen with similar characteristics in Kershaw County,” she explained. That botanist was L. L. “Chick” Gaddy, a field-trained naturalist and president of the environmental consulting firm terra incognita. Thomas contacted Gaddy to inform him of her discovery of the plant at the Guy WRP site. He first encountered the species in 2002 and dubbed it Wateree Trillium. Gaddy wrote, “Although I immediately recognized the plant as one of the sessile trilliums, I could not determine the species.” Further research indicated that the trillium was originally collected in the same area in 1937 by H.J. Oosting, Professor of Ecology at Duke University. His trillium collections are housed at the Duke University Herbarium, and that’s where Gaddy discovered that what he had collected at both this WRP site, as well as an adjacent one, were in fact the same trillium. Gaddy’s abstract explains, “After an examination of Oosting’s specimen, I concluded that the plant I was observing in the Wateree floodplain was the same plant Oosting had collected in 1937. Its petals were green to yellowish-green with maroon, clawed bases. The plant was growing in rich floodplain woods along the Wateree River in the Inner Coastal Plain of South Carolina.” Since all known populations of the plant are found just below the fall line in the floodplain of the Wateree River in Kershaw and Richland Counties, Gaddy and Thomas realized that a previously unclassified species of trillium, the same collected by Oosting in 1937, was plentiful at this WRP site. Gaddy classified it Trillium oostingii in tribute to the field biologist who first located and collected it in the 30’s. The permanence of this WRP easement means that this plant species will remain forever undisturbed.
WILLOW OAK REACHES NEW HEIGHTS
This WRP site boasts yet another incredible find, but instead of gazing down at the ground as you would to spot the trillium, the state record willow oak requires you to look sky high. Measuring 148-feet tall and 21.5-feet in circumference, the majestic oak soars above the other trees in this forest. “Many of the trees here are old-growth and are even comparable in size and stature to those in the Congaree Swamp National Monument,” remarked Thomas. In fact, the lay of the land and the flora and fauna found within the forest do in fact resemble the Congaree Swamp. The area is full of cypress and tupelo, along with oak and pine, and the property is blessed with a diversity of native wetland forest plants and abundant wildlife. In the midst is the towering tree, now a state record holder. During a recent field trip, John Cely, a retired SC Department of Natural Resources biologist, used a clinometer to record and confirm the record breaking height of the willow oak. Jamie Guy was on hand to witness the occasion and proudly posed alongside the grand giant to have his photograph taken. “In the 1940’s my father purchased this tract to support our family’s plywood mill.” Luckily the area was never logged. Then in the early 70’s when the profitability of small plywood mills was decreasing due to competition from larger markets, Guy’s father, Edwin Guy, protected the forest through a private foundation with family members serving as the officers. “My father could not bear the thought of those trees being cut,” Guy said. That’s how Wateree Floodlands Memorial Forest was created. And now, the WRP easement is just another way of protecting the valuable assets of this old-growth forest.
LOVE IT AND LEAVE IT WITH THE HELP OF WRP
May 2010 marks the 20th anniversary of American Wetlands Month--a time when conservation partners in federal, state, tribal, local, non-profit, and private sector organizations celebrate the vital importance of wetlands to the Nation's ecological, economic, and social health. A hike through the Wateree Floodlands Memorial Forest is pure proof that wetlands are places worth protecting. Not only do they provide habitat for wildlife and plants, they also filter, clean, and store water, and act like kidneys for other ecosystems. They help collect and hold flood waters, and best of all, provide a place of beauty, peace and quiet, and recreation.
Thomas said the WRP restoration plan will reconnect the natural backwater floodplain channels that are now blocked by road fill or restricted by small pipes. “In shallower channels, we will take the road fill down to below natural ground, and then install rock and geo-textile in the road bed up to natural ground level.” She explained that the road will still be accessible by vehicles up to certain water levels, and still allow for the natural water flow patterns. Larger pipes will be installed in the deeper “slough” areas where water flow is currently restricted. This will also allow passage for aquatic organisms. Invasive species, such as Chinese Privet, will also be eradicated. This shrub infests bottomland forests and many other natural communities and reduces habitat quality and biodiversity. “The removal of this species will nurture the growth of native plants that provide high quality food and shelter for wildlife,” explained Thomas. Construction begins this summer, while water levels are low.
The NRCS District Conservationist currently assisting Guy with the WRP restoration is Mike Sigmon who commented, “This forest contains a truly spectacular WRP site. It’s got a unique ecosystem and diverse plant and animal community, including aquatic and terrestrial species. Working through WRP, Mr. Guy has preserved a very special place, and he’s the type of landowner I enjoy working with and partnering with every day.”
Thanks to the dedication and stewardship of the Guy family, and the knowledge and expertise of the many conservationists who collaborated to develop the restoration plan and identify the amazing spectrum of biodiversity in the area, this wetland will not be a memory. Rather, the permanent WRP easement will ensure that the area continues to function just as it was meant to. This wetland is a vital link between land and water, and supports an amazing productive ecosystem.