More than 400 acres of a remote barrier island will soon be preserved for the public after a top South Carolina financial panel approved the last funds needed for its purchase this week.
The State Fiscal Accountability Authority on Tuesday voted in favor of a grants package worth nearly $2.9 million for the Department of Natural resources to buy the property on South Fenwick Island.
South Fenwick is an uninhabited island located at the mouth of St. Helena Sound immediately west of Edisto Island in Colleton County. It is only accessible by boat through the marshes of the ACE Basin preserve. The Nature Conservancy owns roughly 75 percent of the island and plans to sell it for its appraised value.
DNR spokesman David Lucas said the agency is working on a management plan to determine which types of access will be allowed on the island, “It will be open to the public for outdoor recreational and educational activities,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “We don’t quite yet know what those will be. That is all still in the planning stages.” The project is scheduled for completion in August.
South Fenwick Island was created when the Army Corps of Engineers dredged a new channel across a narrow strip of Fenwick Island. Descendants of former slaves lived on the island they called “Seabrook” until the 1970s. Former State Rep. Kenneth Hodges said he made many trips by boat to the island where his grandparents lived and where many family members are buried.
The site’s remoteness helped it develop a unique Gullah culture, he said. “The people really developed a sense of self-sufficiency,” he said. “My uncle used to say, when he was growing up, you generally never even saw a white person on the island,” except for insurance assessors or hunting club members, Hodges added.
Little remains of the community now except the occasional wall or foundation. A former Samaritan’s Baptist church also stood on the island at one point and historians say some fortifications also guarded the St. Helena Sound during the Civil War.
Hodges said he’s glad the island will be protected and not turned into a resort as other neighboring barrier islands have. “Many of the other islands along the coast of South Carolina were placed in private hands or developed into gated communities,” he said. “But, by the state acquiring this, that will not happen.”
The island was purchased from the Nature Conservancy with federal grants and help from the South Carolina Conservation Bank. A majority of the funding ($1.85 million) comes from a federal National Coastal Wetlands Conservation grant, which is matched by a North American Wetlands Conservation grant and $500,000 from the South Carolina Conservation Bank.