|Georgetown Lighthouse on North Island|
Just South of Georgetown is an enclave of wildlife habitat protection that is known to few, but heralded by conservation leaders as important on a landscape scale. The Tom Yawkey Wildlife Center Heritage Preserve is in the managed lands program of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources as of 1966 when the late Tom Yawkey willed it to the Palmetto State. Only a few areas in North America enjoy the level of wildlife diversity found on the property today due to Mr. Yawkey’s estate planning and vision of providing a sanctuary for migratory species like shorebirds.
|Rice culture was practiced in the impoundments|
The Yawkey Preserve boundaries are considerable, composed of 31 square miles of pristine habitat. Which includes North Island, South Island and Cat Island with 24,000-acres uplands and wetlands and a full 14-miles of untouched front beach that hosts several hundred nesting sea turtles annually. Due to specific requests in Yawkey’s will forbidding general public recreation and visitation, this area will always remain a wildlife sanctuary. Understanding that money would be required to maintain his wishes, Yawkey left a large general fund in place to administer future management, research and education undertakings.
|Vast pristine uplands are managed with fire|
The Winyah Bay area associated with Georgetown has a rich maritime history, and North Island was the seaside summer home to many rice plantation owners. On June 12, 1777 the now famous Frenchman Lafayette landed on North Island in order to execute a visit to Charleston via land, rather than risk capture by the British at sea. He met with General Howe and General Moultrie before moving up to Philadelphia for an audience with Congress.
The SCDNR property manager at the Yawkey Preserve is Jamie Dozier, who can also relay some of the history of the property. “There was a total of six rice plantations that operated at this location, and General Edward Porter Alexander helped to consolidate the holdings in 1878,” said Dozier. “Alexander was a three-star Confederate General who was in charge of Lee’s artillery during the Civil War, but who went on to become a railroad baron who focused on political endeavors. His invited guests for waterfowl hunting included President Grover Cleveland.”
After Alexander’s death in 1910 the Yawkey family began acquiring his holdings and other parcels. Tom Yawkey’s grandfather was a timber tycoon from Michigan who owned thousands of acres of white pines in the Midwest, and his son Bill Yawkey went on to develop mineral and natural gas projects in the energy sector form the same land. Bill Yawkey adopted his orphaned nephew Tom Yawkey in 1909. Upon his death 1n 1918, he left an inheritance of millions of dollars and his S.C. lands to Tom Yawkey, who in turn made the Yawkey Preserve a pillar for wildlife conservation in South Carolina.
To view this feature article in the newspaper click on Charleston Mercury.
To view past blog entries about coastal conservation in S.C. click ACE Basin.