Parts of SC barrier island safe from development after $500K Google donation

Originally posted by The Post and Courier here.

NORTH MYRTLE BEACH — Waties Island, one of South Carolina’s last remaining undeveloped barrier islands, has been the target of conservation efforts for decades and a recent land purchase through a donation by tech giant Google seeks to expand on that.

Just beyond locked gates at the end of Little River Neck Road sits a completely different world, set apart from the hi-rises and beach homes located miles away in Cherry Grove.

Land conservation group Open Space Institute, which recently purchased nearly 260 acres on the northern half of the 2.5-mile long island at an undisclosed price from long-time landowner Olivia Boyce-Abel, recently led The Post and Courier and various stakeholders on a rare land tour that few from the public have ever experienced.

Chris Crolley, owner of Coastal Expeditions, who was at the helm of his truck Oct. 13, pointed out the various trees and wildlife along the sandy path that eventually ends at the Atlantic Ocean, as he made the slow trek to the northern tip of the Grand Strand.

“I assumed that all was lost north of Georgetown,” Crolley said. “The idea that there was a savable gem north of Myrtle Beach was not something that I was aware of.”

After entering the first section of the barrier island owned by the Coastal Educational Foundation and used for research, Crolley explained that the area could easily be classified as a maritime forest, noting the Loblolly pine trees and Yaupon Hollys blanketing the path just as squirrels and birds looked down from their perch.

The view abruptly shifted a few minutes later as the forest scene suddenly changed over to a salt marsh landscape as Crolley’s truck made its way up the private causeway.

“You’ve got all of the things that thrive in the woods — wild turkeys, deer, owls — and suddenly you drop off into the salt marsh flat and you have a completely different dynamic,” Crolley said. “All of a sudden, the mammal isn’t a white-tail deer, it’s an Atlantic bottled-nosed dolphin.”

With views of nearby Cherry Grove on the right side of the truck and the marsh on the left, Nate Berry, OSI’s senior vice president in South Carolina, explained what was about to happen as the tour approached the shore.

“The drive up in; this is something you are not going to experience many times in your life,” Berry said. “Especially this next 20 seconds.”

A few seconds later Crolley’s truck crept over a tall sandy hill unveiling the nearly 3 miles of undisturbed beach, populated with only shorebirds looking for their next meal.

“I believe 670 miles due east is Bermuda,” Crolley said.

After parking nearby and walking the remaining distance to OSI’s 260 acres, Crolley noted that it was important to get the “anchor” of Waties Island locked down to preserve its unique ecosystem, which he said is similar to a semi-arid desert.

“I recognize trends,” Crolley said, while standing on the landmark 30-foot-tall sand dune. “To have OSI acquire this property is amazing and inspirational, but that’s what I’ve come to expect from their footprint throughout the Southeast. I’ve seen it before and I’m seeing it again.”

Others have taken notice, including tech giant Google, which provided a $500,000 grant that will help ensure that Waties Island remains free from future development.

The gift was sent to Sustain SC — a nonprofit that aims to improve the state’s economy and environment — for its newly formed Land and Water Action Fund.

OSI was selected to be the first recipient of the fund whose goal is to bring private sector dollars into South Carolina to leverage local, state and federal funds to protect its natural resources.

A public funding source, The South Carolina Conservation Bank awarded a $4 million reimbursable grant, to be paid back from other funding sources.

Google has invested $2.9 billion in South Carolina since opening a data center in Berkeley County in 2007, but SC Sustain officials said the tech giant wanted to make a significant contribution that would preserve a natural resource in the state.

“We have an incredible responsibility to preserve South Carolina’s natural beauty and to foster sustainable growth as people from around the world are discovering all that our state has to offer and moving here,” said Gov. Henry McMaster, who will make the announcement and present an award to Google Oct. 27 at the inaugural Sustainability Symposium hosted by Sustain SC in Columbia. “Sustain SC’s Land and Water Action Fund is going to help us do that, and Waites Island is as deserving of a conservation project as we have in the state.

“I’m grateful for Google’s investment in this project because it will inspire further investment and collaboration across our state in the future.”

Local nonprofit Waccamaw Community Foundation additionally announced it is matching Google’s gift with a $500,000 contribution to the conservation project.

OSI said it plans to hold onto the property until it can be transferred to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources to be eventually used as a Heritage Preserve.

A majority of Waties Island is owned by the Coastal Educational Foundation. The rest is owned by members of the Boyce family and Virginia-based Riverstone Properties, according to Berry.

The Waties Island land purchase by OSI comes at a time when developable acreage along the coast in the state’s fastest-growing county is becoming rare, resulting in a recent construction boom that continues to push inland toward the northwestern parts of rural Horry County.

Once a quiet pit stop for vacationers headed to Myrtle Beach and parts south, the northern tip of the Grand Strand grew by one-third in the past decade, adding nearly 3,000 residents.

But the conservation group said they worked for years on a purchase agreement with Boyce-Abel to make sure that the tract — which not many from the public have seen from the ground — stays safe from developer’s hands.

Berry said as the 260 acres eventually turn into a Heritage Preserve by DNR, OSI hopes to buy more land from the other landowners on Waties Island to protect it.

“They are certainly open to a conservation sale, we just have to find a lot of money,” Berry said. “Hopefully in the not-too-distant future, we will figure out a way.”

According to DNR Director Robert Boyles, 191 bird species have been documented on Waties Island, which is nearly half of all the bird species in the state. He said the reserve will provide an “oasis” for migratory birds, sea turtles and shorebirds.

Sustain SC said with the establishment of the fund, the door for collaboration is open now and they welcome more private companies like Google to the table in an effort to preserve additional areas across the state.

“We are beyond grateful for the support launching this fund and hope it’s just the beginning of something that will truly make a difference for future generations,” said Ethel Bunch, Sustain SC’s founder and CEO.

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12/09/2022
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Dennis L Wade

Dennis Wade is a native of Lancaster, SC and a graduate of the University of South Carolina. Mr. Wade has been President and Chief Executive Officer of The Jackson Companies since 2001. The Jackson Companies is a diversified tourism, hospitality and real estate development company located in the South Strand of Myrtle Beach. For more than five decades, the Jackson family has instilled philanthropy and community service into their multifaceted group of businesses. Dennis is a graduate of Leadership Grand Strand XIX and a Waccamaw American Leadership Forum Senior Fellow. He currently serves on the Coastal Educational Foundation Board of Directors, the Board of Visitors for the Wall College of Business at Coastal Carolina University, and the Conway Medical Center Board of Trustees. He is also chairman of the Board of Directors of Coastal Carolina Bancshares, Inc. and a director of Coastal Carolina National Bank. Dennis and his wife, Marie, have two children, Erica and Taylor, and have called the Grand Strand home since 1997.

Allen Jeffcoat

Allen Jeffcoat has been practicing law in Myrtle Beach since 1977. His areas of practice include real estate, estate planning, probate administration, environmental law, corporate and business law, and bankruptcy.  He serves as an expert witness in cases in these areas of practice. He is licensed to practice law in SC and NC. He has served as chair of the Real Estate Practices Section of the SC Bar.

Allen’s relationship with Waccamaw Community Foundation began many years ago, when he would advise his estate planning clients to invest their funds to benefit their philanthropic interests, such as education, the arts, and environmental protection. After working alongside his clients and WCF, Allen joined the Foundation’s board of directors in 2007 and served as director until 2016.

In addition to his professional to his professional interests and his involvement with WCF, Allen has a history of supporting coastal and statewide conservation efforts. In 1985, Allen joined the South Carolina Nature Conservancy board of trustees, and fulfilled a variety of leadership roles- including a stint a chairman— from 1987-1989. Allen also served on Governor Carroll Campbell’s Freshwater Wetlands Forum, and continues to apply his experience in environmental and real estate law to help preserve and protect natural resources and ecosystems vital to the local community.

Allen is also a founder and first president of the YMCA of Coastal Carolina.

Allen has resided in the Grand Strand since 1977 with his wife, Mary. They have two grown children and a granddaughter.

Tim Whitten

Tim@mywcf.org

843-357-4483

A native of Alabama, Tim received his bachelor’s degree in business administration from Auburn University and a master’s degree in religion from Lenoir-Rhyne University. He brings to WCF a background in grant writing and in disaster recovery most recently serving the South Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church.

Tim resides in Galivants Ferry with his wife Julie and their four children.

Phillip Anderson

Director

Phillip Anderson is a Senior Vice President & Senior Lending Officer for Asheville, North Carolina-based HomeTrust Bank, serving the coast of South Carolina. Throughout his 22-year banking career, he has served in commercial banking, trust administration, retail banking, and market leadership roles with mid-size and regional banks in South Carolina and Georgia. He has always embodied the community banking model of building strong local relationships and being active in numerous non-profits and promoting their causes.
 
He is a graduate of Mercer University in Macon, GA, the Cannon Financial Institute’s Trust School, The Stonier Graduate School of Banking and Wharton Leadership program. He is also a graduate of several Chamber of Commerce Leadership programs over his career.
 
Phillip resides in Pawleys Island, South Carolina, with his wife Mary Beth and daughter Carolina. In his free time, he enjoys spending time with his family, reading, and playing golf.

Ellen Barney Sycks

Stewardship & Communications Officer

ellen@mywcf.org
614-893-7998

Ellen serves the Foundation as its Stewardship and Communications Officer, responsible for communicating with fund holders on a regular basis and providing advice when needed, particularly around fund development as well as relevant field of interest information.

A native of Hillsboro, Ohio, Ellen provides more than three decades of non-profit leadership experience, focusing on creating major gift and planned giving opportunities to support organizations’ programs, special projects and capital campaigns. Ellen received her B.A. in National Security Policy from The Ohio State University. She lives in Murrells Inlet with her husband Jay and their two cats, Mabel and Murray.

Chris Hanna

Director

Chris Hanna is a Senior Broker Associate with Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Advantage. Born and raised in Myrtle Beach, he started in the real estate business in 1993. Chris is a member of the Coastal Carolinas, South Carolina and National Associations of REALTORS and is an active local community member as well, having served on various boards such as the Horry County Zoning Board of Appeals, the Coastal Carolina Athletic Foundation, and Horry County school district Carolina Forest Advisory Board. He is a member of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, Myrtle Beach Area Hospitality and Oceanview Baptist Church. Chris is a graduate of Socastee High School in Myrtle Beach, and he received his Bachelor of Arts from the University of South Carolina at Coastal Carolina in 1992.

Rick Elliott

Director

Rick Elliott is president of his family business, Elliott Realty, one of the most prominent real estate companies in North Myrtle Beach. As a native of Horry County, he has always made giving back to the community a part of his approach to business. Each guest who stays with Elliott Realty is given the option to add an additional $1 per night to their bill to be donated to the Elliott Realty Charitable Community Fund at Waccamaw Community Foundation, which invests in causes throughout the surrounding community. Rick brings this commitment to community philanthropy to his service on the Waccamaw Community Foundation Board of Directors. He has also served as the chairman of the North Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce.



Tyler Easterling

Director

Tyler Easterling is a native of Marietta, Georgia and has resided in Georgetown County since moving to the area in 2002. Tyler is the president and COO of The Brandon Agency, an integrated marketing agency headquartered in Myrtle Beach. She is the current board chair for Coastal Montessori Charter School and serves on the boards of Helping Hands of Georgetown and Young Presidents’ Organization Southern 7 Chapter. She is a member of the 2018 Liberty Fellowship class.

Tyler holds an undergraduate degree in Journalism from the University of Mississippi and a Masters of Mass Communication from the University of South Carolina. She is an active member of Duncan Memorial United Methodist Church and enjoys spending time with her husband, Marshall, and two daughters, Julia and Anne Marshall.



Terri DeCenzo

Director

Terri serves as executive director of Women in Philanthropy and Leadership for Coastal Carolina University (WIPL). She is married to Coastal Carolina University President David A. DeCenzo, and when he joined the university in 2002, she became passionately involved with the life of the university, taking an active role in issues relating to student government and NCAA athletics, among others. Previously Terri has served on the boards of the American Red Cross and the Foundation for Georgetown Hospital System and was an adviser to the Safe Families Initiative that established Family Justice Center of Horry and Georgetown Counties. In 2016, Terri was awarded the Order of the Silver Crescent by South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley. A graduate of St. Joseph Hospital School of Nursing and Towson University, she spent most of her career practicing in critical care. The DeCenzo’s have four children: Mark (his wife Jen), Meredith (and her husband Ryan Daley), Gabriella and Natalie; and one beautiful grandson, William Mason Evans.


Executive Director, Women in Philanthropy and Leadership for Coastal Carolina University (WIPL)

Dr. Tracy Bailey

Director

Dr. Tracy Bailey earned a Ph.D. in Education with a specialization in Language and Literacy at the University of South Carolina in May of 2013. She is a Teaching Associate with Coastal Carolina University teaching Intermediate Literacy Development and Instructional Practices for Early Literacy.

Dr. Bailey began her career in education as a high school English instructor and has worked in both rural and urban educational settings. After realizing the impact professional development and community literacy had on her personal and professional growth, she wanted others to experience this. She is the founder and executive director of Freedom Readers, Inc., a nonprofit company dedicated to promoting literacy. Tracy seeks to instill in teachers, students, and the community at large the belief that every student can learn and every learner has the responsibility to pass on new knowledge to another.

Dr. Bailey earned her BA from The College of Charleston- majoring in English Education- and a Masters in Secondary Education from Coastal Carolina University. She is married to award-winning writer, Issac J. Bailey, and is the mother of two wonderful children, Kyle and Lyric.



Brent Groome

Chair

A 1987 graduate of UNC Chapel Hill, Brent came to the Grand Strand area in 1989. After a 31 year career with HTC (Horry Telephone Cooperative), he retired in 2021.  In addition to his current role with WCF, he also serves as a member of the Board of Commissioners for HGTC. He is also active with his church; serving as a Sunday School teacher and congregational song leader.  He and his wife, Dana, live in the Conway area.

Shawna Mosley-Foster

Service and Operations Officer

shawna@mywcf.org
843-357-4483 x200

Shawna, a native of Jamaica, NY, has more than 15 years of experience working in the hospitality and tourism field. Since relocating to South Carolina in 2004, she spent a few more years working with a local hospitality company before joining WCF’s staff.  While a native New Yorker, Shawna has a rich heritage right here in the Waccamaw area. Her mother was born and raised on Sandy Island, and her father is from Bucksport. She enjoys cooking, stargazing with her family, cruising and once retired….RVing! Shawna and her husband are empty nesters and resides in Myrtle Beach. 

Mike Mancuso

Executive Director

mike@mywcf.org
843-357-4483


Mike is a veteran business leader with more than 30 years of experience as an innovative problem solver and change agent for nonprofit, banking and small business organizations. Mike is a skilled economic developer with background in community development, downtown redevelopment, industrial development and strategic planning. His passion is helping Communities and Businesses thrive and grow. Most recently Mike served as the President and CEO of the Triangle East Chamber of Commerce & Economic Development Foundation in Johnston County, NC and as Executive Director for the Sustainable Opportunity Development Center, Inc in Salem, OH. Mike and his wife Christine make their home in Little River, SC. They have 3 children and 5 grandchildren living in Charleston, SC, Atlanta, GA, & Austin TX. Mike enjoys boating on the ICW, tinkering in his workshop/garage and spending time with family and friends.