Thanks to the leadership and collaboration of community partners, local governments, state agencies and conservation nonprofits, planning has started for a future South Carolina State Park – the first in nearly 20 years – along the Black River in Williamsburg and Georgetown Counties.
The new state park will connect a network of properties, owned by public and private partners, along 70 miles of riverfront on the Black River. This vision for a linear park, with various access points physically separated along the river, is unlike any other experience currently offered in South Carolina’s 47 state parks. The Black River Water Trail & Park Network will include the newly acquired Black River Landing in Kingstree and end at Rocky Point Community Forest in Georgetown, with various trail stops and access points scattered in between.
In February 2021, South Carolina State Parks accepted the donation of the 310-acre “Hinds Canada” property from Open Space Institute. The State Park property along the Black River and downstream from Kingstree, South Carolina complements the park network and promises to be a celebrated asset to Williamsburg County.
The public engagement phase of a year-long master planning process is being launched now to ensure the vision for the new state park and broader park network and water trail meets the access and recreational needs of the communities along the river and creates nature-based tourism opportunities to boost the local economy.
The network of parks and access points will share a common brand, making it easier for visitors to use and navigate the spaces, access the river, and paddle from one point to the next. With input collected during the master planning process, each trail stop may offer various passive recreation activities and amenities depending on the location – from primitive campgrounds to picnic shelters, restrooms, hiking trails and parking.
“The Black River is located exclusively within the borders of our state, giving South Carolina communities and entities the unique opportunity to work together to protect it,” said South Carolina State Parks Director Paul McCormack. “Community partners and conservation nonprofits have really been the catalyst for this project, and State Parks is excited to play a supporting role in this historic endeavor. While we are still likely many years away from welcoming our first visitor, the vision for the future park will provide important access for education and recreation, allowing us all to work together to protect and preserve the natural and cultural significance of this special place.”
The Black River is a free-flowing Coastal Plain river bordered by largely untouched and undiminished natural landscapes of forests or farmlands. The river is named after its dark tea-like color, stained by the natural tannins that seep from the river’s leaves and swamps.
The Black River steadily meanders from large, open “lake-like” areas to narrow channels, bordered by forests of cypress, swamp tupelo and loblolly pine. Deep in these forests, you can find ancient cypress and other old growth trees that give you an unblemished glimpse at South Carolina’s past. Many plant and animal species call the river and surrounding swamps home, and it is a popular stopping point for various migratory birds.
While its gentle river flow has already made the Black River popular among paddlers, offering a scenic and approachable adventure for families and outdoor enthusiast alike, it also serves other important roles in the local community. The Black River provides drinking water for thousands, while it’s forests and vegetation create a critical floodplain to protect surrounding businesses and homes from flooding. It has served as a local favorite fishing hole for generations of anglers. Organizers are hoping to expand and enhance these core roles that the Black River is playing today, and has played historically, in the local community as the master plan develops.
“This project is a glowing example of how strategic land protection and a shared local vision can jumpstart a movement that will have countless benefits for this community and its residents,” said Open Space Institute Senior Project Director, Dr. Maria Whitehead. “For generations to come, the property donated to the state by the Open Space Institute will welcome South Carolinians as they experience the beauty and wonder of the Black River. The Open Space Institute is proud to have played a role in the creation of this historic state park, and prouder yet to be part of the larger team of government agencies, community stakeholders, and neighbors who are joining forces to reimagine the Black River and its potential to provide increased recreational opportunities for residents, safeguard against the costs and dangers of flooding, and serve as a local economic draw.”
Master planning partners currently include:
- Black River Cypress Preserve
- Black Scenic River Advisory Council
- Butler Conservation Fund
- Ducks Unlimited
- Georgetown County
- Open Space Institute
- South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism
- The Nature Conservancy
- Town of Andrews
- Town of Kingstree
- Waccamaw Regional Council of Governments
- Williamsburg County
- Winyah River Alliance
Funding for the master planning initiative includes support from the Bunnelle Foundation, Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, Judith Haskell Brewer Fund, and the Conservation Alliance. Earth Design is serving as the consultant on the master plan.
Acquisition of the new state park property from the Open Space Institute was supported by North American Wetlands Conservation Act Funds via the South Carolina Chapter of The Nature Conservancy and the South Carolina Conservation Bank.
“This park is the next step in reopening the river to families who grew up alongside it, but couldn’t easily access it,” said Dale Threatt-Taylor, executive director for The Nature Conservancy in South Carolina. “The Black River is one of South Carolina’s most beautiful natural treasures, from the giant old-growth trees, to the shaded, winding narrows, to the striking swallow-tailed kites that hunt overhead. We’re excited to be part of sharing those treasures with more local communities through initiatives like reopening the boat ramp at Rocky Point in 2018, protecting an additional mile of direct frontage in 2020 and increasing access through a future state park partnership.”
The report and master plan will be finalized in December 2021. A major component of the master plan is incorporating broad and diverse community engagement. From surveys, to meetings, to volunteer opportunities, organizers are actively seeking involvement from all levels to ensure the master plan develops in stride with the needs of the local community and promotes nature-based tourism. To learn more about the vision for the Black River Water Trail & Park Network, and ways to connect and engage both locally and remotely, follow the evolving Story Map here.
Land and properties that will be part of the future water trail and park network are in various stages of acquisition and development. Town of Kingstree’s Black River Landing and South Carolina State Park’s 310-acre Hinds Canada tract have both be acquired but are not yet developed or open to the public. The Story Map offers updated information about available access points, which currently include:
- Rocky Point Community Forest, which is open to the public daily;
- The Nature Conservancy’s Black River Preserve, an expansive forested wetland property that can be enjoyed from the river;
- The Butler Conservation Fund’s Peninsula Campus and its Black River Cypress Preserve, which are available to groups, and occasionally on weekends.
Construction and development are excepted to take a few years. Progress will be shared on the evolving Story Map here.
South Carolina State Parks History
South Carolina State Parks have a long history, dating back to the 1930s when the Civilian Conservation Corps built the first 16 state parks. H. Cooper Black Jr. Memorial Field Trial and Recreation Area, which began operation as a state park in 2006, is the newest State Park.