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1,000 acres in Georgetown will provide natural, cultural and historical learning opportunities

The acreage includes the Hasty Point Plantation and a logging forest.

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Standing on a lock used to control water from the river to a rice paddy, Craig Sasser of Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge said he plans to grow more rice so visitors can see it on a tour at Hasty Point Plantation in Georgetown County. The land is located off Plantersville Road. The plantation dates back to the 1700s. Photo by Janet Morgan/janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com

There are still chalk marks denoting weight measurements on beams inside the 200-plus-year-old rice barn that still stands on the old Hasty Point Plantation near Plantersville, which at its high point was a rice-producing complex of somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 acres. 

“There’s actually three right in this neighborhood, but outside of that, there’s hardly any rice barns that are still in existence ‘cause they’re made out of hard pine, they catch on fire, or more importantly, termites get into ‘em and people just don’t want to spend the money,” said Craig Sasser, who manages Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge. “This one was pretty much fully-restored. The previous owner spent a lot of money.” 

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A rice barn is at Hasty Point Plantation in Georgetown County. The Open Space Institute has preserved more than 1,000 acres of the former plantation on the banks of the Great Pee Dee River. The land is located off Plantersville Road. The plantation dates back to the 1700s. Photo by Janet Morgan/janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com

Last year, the land conservation organization Open Space Institute and Ducks Unlimited helped the refuge purchase the 773-acre plantation from the Schofield family, which wanted to preserve the land for the benefit of future generations. In January, Bob Schofield sold the 237-acre tract across the road from the plantation to the Open Space Institute, which will hold onto it until the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can purchase it. 

“In general, how our group works is we either use our own internal funds to purchase a property or some other creative financing strategy to be able to secure a property until our partners like Fish and Wildlife Service are able to take title to it,” said Maria Whitehead, a senior project manager with OSI. “The owner, Bob Schofield, who had sold this portion to Fish and Wildlife Service, was ready to sell the 237 acres. They didn’t have the funds assembled yet to buy that piece, so we were willing to buy and hold it until they were able to do that. We’ll be working kind of hand in glove with them.” 

Together, the tracts represent more than 1,000 acres of undeveloped land that will eventually be publicly accessible. While the exact details for the property’s future are still being determined, Sasser said the focus will be preserving the history of the rice culture and environmental education. He said he’ll have a better idea next fall of the exact plans.

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A deer pauses beneath Spanish moss lacing tree limbs at Hasty Point Plantation in Georgetown County. The Open Space Institute has preserved more than 1,000 acres of the former plantation on the banks of the Great Pee Dee River. The land is located off Plantersville Road. The plantation dates back to the 1700s. Photo by Janet Morgan/janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com

Plantations usually evoke images of cotton, but coastal South Carolina’s major crop was rice until the early 1900s, when the combination of hurricanes and lack of labor and technical know-how finally doomed the industry that had been built on the backs of slaves from the west coast of Africa, also called the Rice Coast. 

Rice plantations like Hasty Point became popular around the late 1700s and through the 1800s. But end of slavery was also the beginning of the end for the slave-reliant industry.

“There was a huge transformation of this landscape to do rice. And in ways, it scarred the landscape,” Sasser said. “And the human dimension was also scarred because the people who were doing the clearing were enslaved people who were being forced to do that. And so there’s a lot of parallels to the landscape and the human dimension that carry on today, so I think it’s really important to tell that story and reconnect to it all.” 

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Marsh grass sparkles in the afternoon light at Hasty Point Plantation in Georgetown County. The Open Space Institute has preserved more than 1,000 acres of the former plantation on the banks of the Great Pee Dee River. The land is located off Plantersville Road. The plantation dates back to the 1700s. Photo by Janet Morgan/janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com

Digging out rice fields and installing rice trunks (gates that let water in and out of the fields) was a very labor-intensive process. The plantation owners would often leave their homes during cultivation in order to get away from the mosquitoes that carried malaria. They relied on slaves from rice-producing parts of Africa to do all the work, and generally run the operation. The freed slaves who left after the Civil War took the knowledge of rice operations with them. Today, their ancestors are known as the Gullah-Geechee, and their traditions have impacted so much of South Carolina’s culture, especially the food. 

“The plantation owners had over time really relied on enslaved people to run the operations, and they went to various places for vacations during the rice production during the hottest part of the year,” Sasser said. “Basically, they had to come back after the Civil War and figure out how to grow rice because they didn’t have as much help and expertise. The post-Antebellum period where actually the plantation owners had to be here and figure all this stuff out; and they weren’t doing very well.” 

Sasser hopes to use the plantation for educational purposes, teaching younger generations about the history of rice culture, and he wants to partner with local colleges to host environmental education programs. He’s planning on planting rice in one of the rice fields across the river to teach folks about the cultivation process and to create a habitat for ducks and migratory birds that feed on the rice. 

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Chalk marks the beams inside a rice barn at Hasty Point Plantation in Georgetown County. The Open Space Institute has preserved more than 1,000 acres of the former plantation on the banks of the Great Pee Dee River. The land is located off Plantersville Road. The plantation dates back to the 1700s. Photo by Janet Morgan/janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com

“If we plant rice in the managed field over here, it’ll probably be one of the only places in the coast of South Carolina where you can actually go out, the kids can go out and see the rice fields, see rice trunks, it’s all in operation,” Sasser explained. “But you also have the barn, you’ve got structures where you can do programs, you can do interpretive centers, you can do visitor contact stations, the sky’s the limit.”

Ray Funnye, Georgetown County’s director of public services and founder of Plantersville-based nonprofit The Village Group, plans to bring kids to the site once it's opened. Funnye himself is Gullah-Geechee, and his mother grew up on Darlington Plantation.

“We work with young people to help direct them and give them guidance on life, lessons and also help them with after-school programming and summer programming as well,” Funnye said. “We’ve been working with Bob, the previous owner of this place, for many years. We like it here and we hope that we can continue that relationship.” 

The plantation, he said, represents the area’s history and ancestry.  

“Our young people need to know what this barn represents: rice cultivation,” Funnye said. “And our forefathers and mothers were big-time involved with the rice cultivation. They need to know how the entire process work: how you plant it, and you harvest it and you process it. This facility, this plantation really belies that kind of teachable moment for them. It’s about learning.” 

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Spanish moss laces oak tree limbs at Hasty Point Plantation in Georgetown County. The Open Space Institute has preserved more than 1,000 acres of the former plantation on the banks of the Great Pee Dee River. The land is located off Plantersville Road. The plantation dates back to the 1700s. Photo by Janet Morgan/janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com

The Village Group is also planning on partnering with Coastal Carolina University and the College of Charleston to host environmental engineering programs.

“Ultimately what we want to do is be able to enlighten our young people about career opportunities,” Funnye added. “Who knows, we might have the next soil engineer here, the next geotechnical engineer here, somebody who wants to be involved with architectural things. Somebody that wants to do water analysis. These are real jobs that I pay good money for, every day, to have people do these kinds of services. We want not only to be able to have this exposure, but also look at the end results. Who knows, we might entrap a young kid by digging in the dirt.” 

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A rice barn is at Hasty Point Plantation in Georgetown County. The Open Space Institute has preserved more than 1,000 acres of the former plantation on the banks of the Great Pee Dee River. The land is located off Plantersville Road. The plantation dates back to the 1700s. Photo by Janet Morgan/janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com

The 237 acres will provide a parking area for folks who want to walk or ride bikes in the plantation after the gates close, said Sasser, although there’s a longer-term plan for that land.

The forest of loblolly pines has been used to supply wood to the International Paper mill since the 1940s. Loblolly is a fast-growing tree that makes it ideal for use in the paper mill due to its quick turnover. But the native longleaf had disappeared even before then, because its slow growth rate and tight rings made it excellent lumber for building ships and houses. Now, about 97% of the original longleaf pine in coastal South Carolina has disappeared. 

Sasser and Whitehead hope to transform the area back to its original constitution of longleaf pine, which provides an excellent habitat for species like the bobwhite quail, snakes and amphibians that do well in ephemeral wetlands, and perhaps most importantly, the federally-endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. Sasser said they’ll likely offer youth hunts there.

“A lot of rare grass and herbaceous plants thrive in the longleaf forest,” Whitehead said. “The density of the trees you’re seeing now, it would be a quarter as many trees standing. So it’s almost like a grassland underneath with a few trees standing, that’s what a longleaf forest feels like. They call it a longleaf savannah.” 

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Pine trees are part of the more than 1,000 acres of Hasty Point Plantation in Georgetown County that has been preserved by the Open Space Institute. The land is located off Plantersville Road. The plantation dates back to the 1700s. Photo by Janet Morgan/janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com

Building trails in the new acreage is still a long way off, though. 

“I’ve got a park ranger and I’ve got a lot of volunteers. And I tell them, ‘Go walk the woods, walk the roads, map everything, let’s see how this all interconnects. Could we have a loop trail during the off-season?’” Sasser said. But for now, he added, “I’m going to focus on across the highway for a lot of my trails.”

The 773-acre Hasty Point Plantation lies adjacent to the Plantersville Scenic Byway that’s popular with cyclists, and the plantation land will feature plenty of opportunities for walking and biking.

“Just to be able to have this facility in our community and to have access to it… to bring family in, and friends, and guests from out of town, it’s very special to me,” Funnye said. “Just to be a part of it, just to be able to feel welcome here, to be able to walk through the various areas and ride my bike in this area and feel comfortable doing it. Georgetown’s a wonderful place. We have wonderful beaches. Across the river, you have that kind of amenity. But on this side of the river, you have these kinds of unique experiences of natural life, a lot of it. It’s really exciting to be a part of it.” 

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(1) comment

StarfishEnterprise

Great venture. Love preservation of history and dedicating areas to the education of what actually transpired there. Thank you.

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