Large parcels of land next to lake and refuge placed in easement

                  One hundred and ninety two acres of land, some of which borders Lake Marion and Santee National Wildlife Refuge, has been placed into a conservation easement. The Congaree Land Trust paid $192,060 to Willow Oak Gun Club LLC for several parcels of land along Dingle Pond and Palmer roads to be placed in an easement,¬†records show, that will effectively buffer the refuge and ensure no development occurs. "We like to see mother nature preserved," said John Williamson, president of the Pinewood-based gun club. "We need to keep things like they are." Some of the land now protected in perpetuity borders Dingle Pond, a Carolina bay. "We're losing wild acres every day," Williamson said, "and that's not good." Land Protection Director Mary Crockett said Williamson approached the land trust in Columbia to not only conserve the land, but maintain hunting and agriculture uses. The price paid for the land was about 50 percent of its value, she said. "You won't see subdivisions. You won't see a big box store with a parking lot," she said. Williamson said the club has been around about 13 years, and he's been involved with it the last three years. The other two members are a father who lives in Charlotte and the man's son, who lives in Charleston. While the land remains private, Williamson said the club regularly hosts Department of Natural Resources events such as the "Take one make one" program, which teaches safe hunting practices to students¬†and encourages passing along those lessons learned. An 80 acre impoundment for duck hunting is a key feature of the property, Williamson said. On the open market, land such as that could fetch top dollar. "We're trying to put more property under easement," he said. "Mitigation is a good thing." Dingle Pond and Santee National Wildlife Refuge are both important inner coastal plain refuges and sanctuaries for many migratory birds and waterfowl, according to the deed, and the wildlife refuge routinely marks the highest tally of bird species recorded during the Christmas Bird Count of any inner coastal plain location in the Carolinas. The property contains various managed wetlands, marshes, ponds, woodlands, swamps, fields, wildlife food plots and transition zones, according to the deed, and has very high wildlife values to include the occurrence or likely occurrence of 28 species of migratory birds considered of highest, high and moderate priority conservation concern by the DNR. Endangered wood storks and the formerly threatened bald eagle periodically use the property. The stipulations as to how the land can be managed and used are thorough and highly specific. "It has been a challenge, as my lawyer said," Williamson said, chuckling. "We got a lot of details." In addition to providing a buffer for Dingle Pond, the property also provides a buffer for the headwaters of Monkey or Cantey Bay along the northern boundary, according to the deed. "They wanted to see it stay like it is," Crockett said. "They love ducks."  


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