Nature Conservancy purchases 494-acre tract along Waccamaw River

Nature Conservancy purchases 494-acre tract along Waccamaw River

CONWAY, SC (WMBF) - The dotted line is signed for the purchase hundreds of acres along the Waccamaw River, across the Conway Riverwalk. The Nature Conservancy closed on the property Friday.

The group is handing over about half of the land to the city, the other half to the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge.

City leaders have been working with the organizations since 2009 to make this happen.

The goal is to preserve the 494-acres stretching out from both sides of the US-501 bridge entering the historic downtown.

"You can't get it back," Conway Mayor Alys Lawson said. "You either save it while it can be saved or it's gone forever for development."

While development is important, it's not what is planned for these pristine natural areas, which surround Conway.

One goal in acquiring this land is to help protect the city from extensive flood damage.

"Keeping the extensive, mature floodplain forests on the property intact also helps protect the city and downtown communities by holding and filtering vast amounts of water during flood events," according to a press release. "During the October 2015 flood, the tract remained under five feet of water for 20 days, holding an estimated 700 million gallons of water."

It will also help fulfill a long-term goal to build a green space connection between the city and Coastal Carolina University.

A big goal is to bring in more outdoor, water activities, building a niche for Conway as an eco-tourism destination.

"I think you'll see an economic boost in the city of Conway, there'll be more tourists here and it will also provide an opportunity for our own citizens to get out and appreciate the nature that's right at their doorsteps," Mayor Lawson said.

The City of Conway will take over the northern half of the property. It will use part of the $100,000 grant The Nature Conservancy got from Duke Energy's Water Resources Fund towards planning.

"With this grant we have opportunities to do some master planning with those areas. The City of Conway also put in our budget this year some initial funding for planning," Mayor Lawson said. "Any good project begins with a great plan."

Funding for the northern property is also comes from the Grissom Parkway Mitigation Fund, Historic Ricefields Association and Duke Energy's Water Resources Fund, according to a press release.

The Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge will take over the southern half, funded from the North American Wetlands Conservation Act program.

You can get a better idea of the land ownership, using this map.

Waccamaw River Rentals owner Matthew Varnadore said he can't wait to see the impact.

"I hope it's bustling I hope we have tons of visitors, I hope we have more stores open, I hope our current business owners are thriving and I hope it becomes a destination of choice," he said.

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