by Andrea Cooper, executive director of Upstate Forever
It’s a strange and bewildering time, but Upstate Forever is still hard at work to protect the critical lands, waters and unique character of our region. Although the need for local conservation predates COVID-19, the ongoing crisis has shown just how critical it is to protect even more land across the Upstate, especially in fast-growing counties like Greenville. Specifically:
We need more natural spaces for recreation and refuge. Think about the iconic natural places that make Greenville County so special and provide residents with an outdoor escape. Jones Gap State Park. The Prisma Health Swamp Rabbit Trail. Lake Conestee Nature Preserve. Many of these places have been routinely packed to capacity over the last few months as people desperately seek normalcy and refuge in nature. The lines, parking woes and crowded trails will only worsen as the population grows.
We must identify and permanently protect more green places — parks, public trails, trout streams, forests, bike paths and scenic vistas — before development encroaches even further into our remaining wilderness and makes meaningful protection efforts impossible.
We should also protect farmland to strengthen local food supply chains for a more resilient economy. In the 10-county Upstate area, the pave-over rate is the equivalent of one new Haywood Mall (and its parking lots) every single day — and large tracts of farmland are particularly vulnerable to development pressure.
We have all seen bare shelves at grocery stores these past few months. In times when national supply chains are disrupted, local farms become even more important. We must find innovative ways to protect local farmland to strengthen our community’s resilience in the face of future crises.
Finally, we must safeguard water quality through strategic land protection. In recent months, I’ve been particularly appreciative that I have access to clean, reliable water. By protecting headwater streams and undeveloped land next to waterways, we can create buffers that filter pollutants, lessen flood impacts and safeguard our drinking water — naturally and without costly infrastructure upgrades.
Growth is coming, but it doesn’t need to be at odds with conservation. They can go hand in hand. We must protect the green and wild places that are essential to our health, happiness and quality of life. Tell your local officials you want Greenville County to grow and develop in a way that doesn’t result in the loss of the natural riches that make it such a beautiful place to live, work and raise our families.
Upstate Forever currently protects more than 24,000 acres across the Upstate through voluntary conservation easements. To learn more, visit UpstateForever.org.