At its core, conservation is about protecting the environment and ensuring that future generations will be able to enjoy nature at its purest. Conservation is also about opening up natural areas for all to enjoy, affording everyone the opportunity to experience nature first-hand. But in order to experience nature up close, you must first build a trail for others to follow.

The Palmetto Trail

Founded in 1989, Palmetto Conservation Foundation, or PCF, has spent 25 years building a trail for all of South Carolina to follow. PCF’s signature project, the Palmetto Trail, is a planned 500 mile hiking path that connects the state’s east coast with the Appalachian Mountains to the Northwest. As of this year, PCF has completed 350 miles of the trail thanks to a number of volunteer groups, such as the Youth Challenge Academy of the National Guard. The trail itself is composed primarily of primitive pathways, but some stretches feature urban greenways and old railroad lines that have been converted to trails.

The Palmetto Trail runs from the mountains to the sea and crosses through a number of different ecological areas.

The Palmetto Trail runs from the mountains to the sea and crosses through a number of different ecological areas. Courtesy: Palmetto Conservation Foundation

The trail’s construction is segmented into individual passages, allowing the PCF time to plan out each route and efficiently allocate resources towards the trail’s eventual completion. Beginning on the east coast with the Awendaw Passage, the Palmetto Trail cuts a northwesterly path through the middle of the state and eventually terminates in the Oconee Mountains near the state’s Northwestern border with Tennessee. Each passage is available for single-day or multi-day trips and features a variety of terrain including forests, sand hills, and mountains.

There are a number of historical areas that cross the path of the Palmetto Trail, including the Francis Marion National Forest. The area holds particular significance for the American Revolution, as it is commonly held to be the site of Francis Marion’s encampment during the Revolution. Other historical sites include the Revolutionary battlefields of Blackstock and Eutaw Springs.

A portion of the trail through the Francis Marion National Forest. Photo by: Daniel Barcelona

A portion of the trail passing through the Francis Marion National Forest.
Photo by: Daniel Barcelona

In order to build the Palmetto Trail, PCF works with a number of property owners and land managers in order to secure the necessary land rights to build the trail through national forests, state parks, and privately-held lands. As an extension of securing these land rights PCF also helps other property owners to secure conservation easements for their lands. These easements ensure that the land in question will remain undeveloped indefinitely, preserving landscapes and natural habitats for generations. To date, PCF has helped protect 20,000 acres of land by negotiating such easements between land owners and conservation organizations.

Educating Tomorrow’s Trailblazers

Since 2007, PCF has developed its own outdoor programs to encourage more South Carolinians to explore the natural areas of the state. Guided outings along the Palmetto Trail are a regular occurrence, providing the opportunity for members and non-members alike to experience the trail and learn about the historical areas that surround it.

PCF also offers outdoor education programs that are designed to impart essential skills to people of all ages. The Glendale Outdoor Leadership School is PCF’s primary outdoor program that allows participants to experience all that nature has to offer. Participants are able to learn how to kayak and rock climb and are also afforded the opportunity to hone their leadership skills with team-building exercises.

All participants learn how to be good stewards of the environment, leaving no trace of their presence when camping or hiking through the wilderness. A commonly used phrase among hikers and outdoor enthusiasts is “pack it in, pack it out”; meaning that whatever you bring with you, you take out with you. This phrase signifies a larger philosophy that governs all outdoor activities, reminding all who travel the trails that they are only visitors of nature. And that any amount of trash left behind in the wilderness changes the local environment.

The Palmetto Conservation Foundation continues its conservation work, forging new passages for the Palmetto Trail and teaching those who travel it proper outdoor skills.