Less than five miles from the peninsula of Charleston, the Stono River flows south and east on its way to the Atlantic. Crossing the Stono was once a wieldy proposition, one that required patience and skill. As Charleston grew, John’s Island seemed insulated by the waterways which defined her. But throughout time, the passage from the bustling metropolis to its agrarian second cousin became easier — perhaps a little too easy.
Today John’s Island is perched precariously between a hungry and growing urban center and the vast expanses of protected properties on the sea islands of Wadmalaw and Edisto and the massive open space of the ACE Basin. The growth pressure on this once agricultural powerhouse is so intense that many say that it’s too late. Land protection just can’t and won’t happen there. We at the Lowcountry Land Trust don’t agree. This is the story of Three Friars, Seven Oaks and our work to protect them.
Three Friars and Seven Oaks have been in the Kerr family for “just short of 100 years.” Brothers Jimmy and Richard Kerr embrace that legacy and feel a responsibility to be good stewards. In particular, Jimmy relates that he felt “strongly about preserving the sense of arrival” and preserving some of the natural habitats. Earlier this year, they independently worked with the Lowcountry Land Trust to permanently protect Three Friars and Seven Oaks with conservation easements.
The 106-acre Seven Oaks property is located near the Stono River and prominently visible from River Road. The Three Friars property is 48 acres adjacent to Seven Oaks and a key component of the rural nature of the corridor. The properties are representative of many other properties on Johns’ Island with owners who wish to conserve their land, their legacy, culture and quality of life. Although under two separate ownerships, both will continue to be used for hobby farming, forestry and recreational purposes.
“For decades, we have worked in areas, like the ACE Basin, where we speak about land protection at the scale of thousands of acres,” commented Ashley Demosthenes, president and chief executive officer, Lowcountry Land Trust. “On John’s Island, where land is being permanently converted from farming and forestry to residential uses at an alarming rate and the parcels are smaller and numerous, any land we protect is significant.”
Richard and Jimmy Kerr have voluntarily agreed to place their properties under conservation easements, a voluntary agreement between a land trust and a landowner. The landowner encumbers the property with certain restrictions, such as limiting the ability to develop; maintains ownership of the property; and may be able to capture tax advantages. Additionally, because of the significance of the properties, both landowners received funding to compensate them for a modest portion of the loss of value they agreed to under the terms of the easement. The Seven Oaks Conservation Easement was funded by the South Carolina Conservation Bank in June and the Three Friars Conservation Easement was approved by the Charleston Greenbelt Fund in late August. “We wanted to set a standard and do the best we can do to preserve our property,” commented Jimmy. “Lowcountry Land Trust has a good perspective on why these things are important.”
“On Johns Island, where land prices continue to escalate, purchasing property for land protection can be cost prohibitive,” Demosthenes stated. “By leveraging funds from the South Carolina Conservation Bank and the Charleston County Greenbelt Bank, we are able to compensate the landowners for a modest portion of the loss of property value, to relieve traffic congestion, protect water quality, provide critical wildlife habitats and maintain a sense of place for all of the island’s residents.”
Though conservationists celebrate every acre under permanent protection, we know our work on John’s Island is far from complete. We continue to work with conservation-minded landowners who have a desire to protect their property and through our community outreach programs, we’ve gathered a community of people with similar values. Our work can only continue with strong community support. For more information on how you can support our mission, please visit www.lowcountrylandtrust.org.