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Easement expands Savannah River Preserve
Rincon man provides 5,068-acre tract in Jasper County
A look at where the Recess Plantation is. - photo by Image provided
CHARLESTON, S.C.—The Nature Conservancy of South Carolina closed on a significant conservation easement in Jasper County on Aug. 31 that legally protects 5,068 acres of diverse natural land and water in the Savannah River Preserve, a conservation initiative started in 2006 by a group of local landowners, private conservation groups, and public natural resource agencies. The property, called Recess Plantation, is owned by William L. Exley of Rincon.
The land features seven miles of floodplain forest fronting the Savannah River, providing natural wildlife habitat for many birds, including rare wood storks, white ibis, ducks, swallow-tailed kites, and songbirds such as the prothonotary warbler. In addition, the forests are home to dozens of species of reptiles and amphibians, along with deer and wild turkey. The abundant diversity of the land gives it high conservation value, as well as appeal for hunting and traditional uses.
“The property is a real gem for many reasons, primary among them is its river frontage,” said Eric Krueger, director of science and stewardship at the Conservancy. “Surveys conducted on this section of river found it supported 14 varieties of mussels, including seven rare species. In addition, the property not only serves as a buffer on the Savannah River but forms a connection with the Savannah River National Wildlife Refuge and complements other nearby protected properties such as the Palachucola Wildlife Management Area.” 
Tree species that thrive on Recess Plantation include Laurel Oak, Sweetgum, Red Maple, Bald Cypress, American Holly, and Sycamore. Upland forest areas feature mixed pine hardwood forest and dry sand ridges. 
“I love this land, and I want to protect it forever,” Exley said. “The beauty is that I still own my property. With this easement, The Nature Conservancy will safeguard my land’s conservation values in perpetuity. They will monitor and defend my easement so the land won’t be compromised, and that makes me feel good. It all goes together like links in a chain. More people need to know the facts about conservation easements. When they do, I hope they will consider doing the same thing.”
A conservation easement is a voluntary perpetual agreement placed on a piece of property to protect its natural resources. The easement is a legally binding agreement that limits certain types of harmful development from taking place on the land, which remains in private ownership. Conservation easements protect the land’s natural resources for future generations while the owners continue to live on it and use it.
“The Savannah River is the source of drinking water for the people who live in Hilton Head, Bluffton, and all of Beaufort and Jasper counties,” Krueger said. “The water intake is just downriver from Recess Plantation. It’s been well documented that keeping land along rivers undeveloped reduces the occurrence of polluted runoff and protects water quality. This conservation easement does that.”
Ashley Demosthenes, associate director of land protection at the Conservancy, commended Exley for taking formal steps to protect his land. Much of the forest had been cut and now has been put back into a condition where it is regenerating naturally.
“It is a great restoration story,” she said. “There is no one like Billy Exley. He is just one of a kind.”
Krueger agreed, adding: “Under Billy’s management and thoughtful stewardship, the dignity and integrity of this property shall be preserved for generations to come.”