This month, Audubon South Carolina and The Nature Conservancy of South Carolina marked the 50th Anniversary of a conservation partnership that helped establish and protect the Francis Beidler Forest in Harleyville.

Back in 1969 the Audubon’s primary mission was to protect birds and the places they need while The Nature Conservancy worked to conserve all lands and waters. The two organizations joined forces to raise roughly $1.5 million to purchase 3,415 acres in Four Holes Swamp from heirs of the late Francis Beidler- a committed conservationist and one of the largest landowners in the Lowcountry.

“The special 50-year partnership between Audubon and The Nature Conservancy is an exemplary model that has inspired landowners and land trusts to protect one of South Carolina’s most sacred landscapes, preserving a precious habitat for 160 species of birds, including the iconic Prothonotary Warbler,” said Audubon South Carolina Executive Director Sharon Richardson.

She said the partnership has resulted in the expansion of Beidler from 3,415 acres to over 18,000 acres.

“With so much growth putting pressure on Four Holes Swamp, land protection is our most critical tool,” Richardson said.

Mark Robertson, executive director for The Nature Conservancy in South Carolina, said Beidler Forest is “a great example of finding a very special place and figuring out how to protect it, forever.”

“We’ve been here 50 years, and we’ll be here another 50 years, working to protect special places and tackling the big problems that threaten people and nature across the state.”

The crown jewel of Audubon’s Francis Beidler Sanctuary is 1,700 acres of old growth Bald Cypress and Tupelo forest. A 1.75-mile boardwalk throughout the forest allows visitors to see the cypress-tupelo trees up close, many of which are over 1,000 years old. Additionally, visitors can spot a number of animals including the barred owl, red-shouldered hawk, bats, bobcats, alligators, snakes and spiders.

Apart from its natural beauty and rare wildlife habitat, Four Holes Swamp is also rich with cultural history. In recent years, staff at Francis Beidler Forest have researched the many different groups of people who depended on Four Holes Swamp. Maroon communities are one of the groups that lived for a time in the swamp. They were small, secret encampments formed by people who ran away from being held in bondage as slaves.

Visitors are invited to attend the upcoming Cultural Heritage Day to learn about how the Maroon communities lived off the land as the swamp provided many sustaining resources, such as food, medicine, and materials for tools.

Cultural Heritage Day is 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on March 23. The cost is $12 for adults, children 12 and under are free. For more information, please visit: sc.audubon.org/events/cultural-heritage-day.