Welcome to Keep Betsy Beautiful
A Preservation Initiative by the Kiawah Conservancy
As a nationally accredited land trust, the Kiawah Conservancy is excited to announce we are expanding our mission beyond the boundaries of Kiawah Island. By extending our conservation reach through the Keep Betsy Beautiful initiative, the Kiawah Conservancy seeks to create a sustainable balance between development and nature on our sea islands. This ambitious initiative aims to preserve and protect vital ecosystems in the critical Kiawah River, Stono River, and Bohicket Creek watershed. Our initial focus is to preserve land along Betsy Kerrison Parkway to secure a wildlife corridor between Kiawah, Seabrook, and Johns Island. In addition to preservation efforts, the Kiawah Conservancy plans to provide public access to a portion of the preserved properties on Johns Island for the enjoyment and education of future generations of Johns, Kiawah, and Seabrook Islanders, as well as our many sea island visitors.
Together, we can make a lasting impact on the Lowcountry’s natural heritage. Join us today and help preserve the natural beauty, wildlife corridors, rural nature, and cultural heritage of Johns Island!
Frequently Asked Questions
Who is Betsy?
Betsy refers to Betsy Kerrison Parkway, the three mile stretch of road from the intersection of River Road and Bohicket Road to the roundabout at Freshfields.
Why Johns Island?
Johns Island is one of the few places in Charleston where you can still find dove fields, agricultural lands, wild turkeys, and a vibrant rural community rich in cultural heritage. It is a unique and special place. It is the gateway to the Kiawah and Seabrook communities and an integral part of the watershed that supports an immense variety of resident and migratory wildlife species.
The pressure of development on Johns Island and Betsy Kerrison Parkway, in particular, is growing at an alarming rate. We know that the watershed surrounding Kiawah, Seabrook and Johns Island has already been impacted by development. Many areas are contaminated and are no longer considered safe for harvesting oysters. This will only get worse as development continues. We know that growth is inevitable, but smart growth that protects wildlife and their habitats and preserves culture is crucial. If this land is not protected now, it will only be a matter of time before development begins to dramatically impact it.
Ultimately, everything that happens on Kiawah, Seabrook, and Johns Islands has an impact on our respective communities because they are inextricably linked through the local watershed (Kiawah River, Stono River, and Bohicket Creek). Healthy watersheds not only help protect water quality, but also provide benefits to the habitats, wildlife, and people that live within them. Preservation of land within our watershed provides travel corridors and much-needed places to rest, nest, and feed for the wildlife we all love. Our bobcats, birds, and more depend on these critical areas for survival!
What is a watershed? Why is it important to the ecological health of Kiawah Island?
A watershed is an area of land that drains rainwater into one location such as a stream, river, wetland, lake, or the ocean. These water bodies supply our drinking water, water for agriculture, offer opportunities for recreation (kayaking, swimming, and fishing) and provide habitat to countless plant and wildlife species. Unfortunately, various forms of pollution, including runoff and erosion, can interfere with the health of the watershed. Therefore, it is important to protect the quality of our watersheds for the ecological health of everything within it.
Did you know that approximately 40-50% of our nation’s waters are impaired or threatened? Impaired means that the water body does not support one or more of its intended uses. This could mean that the water is not suitable to drink, swim in, or to consume the fish caught there.
Water quality, wildlife habitat, and recreation are all dependent on healthy watersheds.
Ultimately, everything that happens on Kiawah, Seabrook, and Johns Islands has an impact on our respective communities because they are inextricably linked through the local watershed (Kiawah River, Stono River, and Bohicket Creek). Healthy watersheds not only help protect water quality, but also provide benefits to the habitats, wildlife, and people that live within them.
Why is it important to Keep Betsy Beautiful? Why focus on Betsy Kerrison Parkway?
Betsy Kerrison Parkway represents part of the natural corridor that wildlife species use to travel to and from Kiawah, Seabrook, and Johns Island. This area provides places for local and migratory wildlife species to feed, rest, nest, and live and when it’s gone, they will be too!
Betsy Kerrison is also surrounded by the watershed that flows to and through Kiawah, Seabrook, and Johns Islands. As development continues to move to southern Johns Island, wildlife habitats and travel corridors, water quality, and natural lands are diminished. We need to save what we can now before it’s too late and these critical areas are developed!
What are the plans for the properties after they are preserved?
In many cases, the properties will undergo restoration efforts to restore native plants and habitats. All properties will be protected in perpetuity by the Kiawah Conservancy and monitored on a regular basis to ensure conservation values are equal to or greater than when they were at the time of initial preservation. In addition, the Kiawah Conservancy hopes to use a portion of the properties for public access areas with leisure trails, educational signage, and demonstration native plant and rain gardens. A portion of the properties is also being considered for a new demonstration sweetgrass farm. We envision these properties as areas where visitors can enjoy a stroll in nature while they learn about local conservation efforts, wildlife species, native plants, and the rich cultural heritage of Johns Island.
Why a sweetgrass farm?
About a year ago, a Kiawah Conservancy staff member struck up a conversation with a sweetgrass basket weaver at the Rosebank Farmstand on Johns Island. The weaver said she was having a hard time sourcing native sweetgrass and that many other basket weavers were facing the same problem. Although sweetgrass is a plant native to coastal South Carolina, over time it has been cultivated and grown commercially, causing slight variations that are less adaptable to the art of weaving sweetgrass baskets. Much of the sweetgrass we see throughout the Lowcountry now (in medians, neighborhoods, and shopping centers) falls into this cultivated category and is coarser and less pliable than the preferred native sweetgrass. This conversation prompted the Kiawah Conservancy to explore whether seeds from native sweetgrass found on Kiawah Island could be harvested and grown, providing a much-needed resource to community members and further advancing the Conservancy’s goal of planting native species in the Kiawah River Watershed. In 2021, after much research and discussion, the Kiawah Conservancy staff harvested sweetgrass seeds from native (untouched) sweetgrass on Kiawah Island and with the help of a local grower, those seeds were grown into plugs, and later planted. We look forward to harvesting sweetgrass from these plants in the coming years and helping to secure a much-needed resource while at the same time meeting our native plant restoration goals. This effort not only restores the native sweetgrass plants to the area but helps preserve an important cultural heritage craft for the Gullah Geechee community. Through a sweetgrass demonstration garden we hope to share this story with the broader community and encourage similar cooperative projects to benefit nature and communities.
How are the properties acquired and funded?
The Kiawah Conservancy is actively working with landowners to place properties under conservation easement and when easements aren’t possible, we are working to purchase properties for preservation.
To make a donation toward the Keep Betsy Beautiful click the donate button at the top of our webpage and select “Keep Betsy Beautiful” as you Donation Designation or mail your check (payable to the Kiawah Conservancy) to Kiawah Conservancy, 80 Kestrel Court, Kiawah Island, SC 29455. Make sure to write “Keep Betsy Beautiful” on the memo section of your check so we know to designate it to the Keep Betsy Beautiful initiative! We can also accept recurring donations, donated securities, employer matching funds, and direct donations of property learn more here.
Do you really think you can make a difference? Isn’t development inevitable?
We have already made a difference! Through our recent acquisitions, the Kiawah Conservancy has ensured the protection of almost 80 acres of land along Betsy Kerrison Parkway. Through our efforts this land will be protected in perpetuity as habitat for resident and migratory wildlife species. Furthermore, these already protected lands will help prohibit future up-zoning of nearby properties along the left-hand side of Betsy Kerrison Parkway (leaving Kiawah toward Bohicket Road).
We know that development is going to come but it is our mission to advocate for the right development in the right place. By preserving key areas, we can ensure that there is a healthy balance between urban growth and natural areas.
Will the Conservancy continue its efforts on Kiawah?
Yes! The Kiawah Conservancy’s mission is to measure, manage, improve and advocate for the ecological health of Kiawah Island and its environs. To date, we have preserved in perpetuity 3,602 acres of land (40%) of Kiawah Island. The Kiawah Conservancy will continue to seek properties to protect on Kiawah Island while at the same time monitoring and stewarding the properties we currently have under preservation. We take our responsibility to steward these lands very seriously! Expanding our focus to Johns Island is part of this effort. The watershed and wildlife corridors associated with Johns Island directly impact the ecological health of Kiawah Island. Wildlife know no boundaries. From Kiawah’s Bobcat GPS Research, we can see bobcats travel from Kiawah Island, to Seabrook, to Johns Island, and even beyond. Other wildlife species are much the same. They aren’t sedentary to one area. They drift around in search of food, mates, and places to have and raise their young. Providing wildlife corridors throughout our sea islands is critical to the health of our wildlife species. Preserving lands on Johns Island provides safe passage for our beloved wildlife as they travel among the sea islands.