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December 3, 2007

Stumphouse Mtn., Issaqueena Falls protection marks conservation milestone

The protection of two of the Upstate’s iconic landmarks, Stumphouse Mountain and Issaqueena Falls, by a conservation partnership was celebrated at a Dec. 1 dedication ceremony near Walhalla.
Celebration of the Stumphouse Conservation Project and a dedication ceremony was held Saturday, Dec. 1 at Issaqueena Falls near Walhalla in northern Oconee County.

"This is a great victory for the entire region," said Frank Holleman, a Greenville lawyer and Oconee County native who was one of the leaders in the protection of Stumphouse Mountain. "Oconee residents, local governments, state agencies, conservation groups, and contributors from around the state and country joined together to protect an important part of South Carolina's history and natural heritage."

"The Nature Conservancy has been humbled to be a part of the successful efforts of Stumphouse Mountain Project," said Mark Robertson, executive director for The Nature Conservancy in South Carolina. "The success of Stumphouse has been the partnership effort between private and public groups coming together working towards a common goal. The Department of Natural Resources will be an excellent steward for this very special place. We have been honored to work with them on this effort and know they will steward this land for the public good."

About 10 months ago, residents of Walhalla learned that a Florida developer was considering purchasing Stumphouse Mountain. This realization triggered a rapid deployment by local, state and regional conservation agencies and organizations to protect Stumphouse Mountain. Among the partners in this conservation effort were The Nature Conservancy, Upstate Forever, Naturaland Trust, the Chattooga Conservancy, Oconee Preservation Unlimited Stewardship Trust and the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

The result is that Walhalla City Council received more than $1.2 million from the South Carolina Conservation Bank and placed a conservation easement on the city’s 440-acre Stumphouse watershed property, to be held in perpetuity by Upstate Forever. The Nature Conservancy acquired 511 additional acres on Stumphouse, including Issaqueena Falls, two of the tunnels on the mountain and a public hiking trail on 2 miles of the old Blue Ridge Railroad bed.

By using $1.5 million from the Heritage Land Trust Fund, the DNR will purchase most of those 511 acres to become part of the Heritage Trust Program. This property will be open to the public and will have the highest level of protection granted under South Carolina law. Issaqueena Falls and surrounding acres will be protected by a strict conservation easement held by Upstate Forever, and the falls will be given to the City of Walhalla to be part of its city park.

A number of state agencies, foundations and individuals contributed to the cause. Some of the many partners and contributors included: DNR, which contributed $1.5 million; Oconee County, which contributed $300,000; a $300,000 challenge grant from Fred and Alice Stanback, leading conservationists from Salisbury, N.C.; and the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, which awarded the project a $200,000 grant.

The most impressive aspect of this acquisition was the uniting of more than 1,100 donors who contributed to the effort, with donations ranging from $1 to tens of thousands of dollars. Contributions were received from donors in more than 100 communities, from Seattle, Wash., to Mountain Rest, and cities and towns throughout South Carolina. Local supporters in Oconee County held a music festival in Walhalla on Aug. 21 that raised $5,500. Private donors contributed more than $1 million to the conservation project.

See video of Issaqueena Falls and Stumphouse.

DNR protects and manages South Carolina’s natural resources by making wise and balanced decisions for the benefit of the state’s natural resources and its people.

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