Can a grandma save a 350-year-old tree in Port Royal? ‘It’s one little thing I can do’

0
102

Grandma Hope Cunningham, 65, didn’t want to engage in a fight to save a tree but says it’s her calling now.

She and her Port Royal neighbors went to a meeting last fall to protest a deviation a developer needed to build a three-story apartment building.

The city denied the deviation, but Cunningham walked out of the gathering, concerned about the fate of the 350-year-old live oak tree that towers over the Oakview Drive property. Sooner or later, she suspected, the land would be developed.

Six months later, Cunningham – an artist, master gardener and grandmother – has become the unlikely voice and face of a group of dedicated residents who are working “with all their might” to save what is known to be the oldest and largest living oak tree in the Beaufort District.

“I’m just an old lady trying to save a tree,” says Cunningham.

The efforts of Cunningham and others are paying off.

On March 13, the Beaufort County Community Services and Land Use Committee expressed the county’s interest in purchasing the 12-acre property using funds from the Rural and Critical Lands Preservation Program to ensure the protection and proper care of the ancient oak tree, which is unkempt and unkempt needs maintenance.

This came after Tennent Houston requested county conservation funding from Merry Land Investments, LLC, the landowner, in response to a letter Cunningham sent him explaining how important they felt it was to get the property. She enclosed an application for funding rural and critical areas. The Beaufort County Open Land Trust also informed Merry Land about the program.

“Lo and behold,” said Cunningham, “he signed it.”

The tree has survived wars and hurricanes

The 60-foot tree, with a girth as large as the famous Angel Tree on Johns Island in Charleston, has seen the Revolutionary War, slavery, the War of 1812, the Civil War, Reconstruction and countless hurricanes.

Under the massive canopy you can still see the tombstone of Mary Pope, an enslaved woman who died in 1818.

The story goes on

“His DNA is Beaufort history,” says Cunningham passionately. “It’s a witness tree.”

Sylvia Woolard (left) and master gardener Hope Cunningham stand next to the massive live oak tree at Cherry Hill Plantation on September 21, 2022 in Port Royal.

The land, part of Cherry Hill Plantation, remains a wild and woolly enclave on Battery Creek, though it sits right on busy Parris Island Gateway.

According to Cunningham, it’s a great candidate for a passive park because there are few parks in this area of ​​Port Royal. And since land is surrounded by development or plans for development, protecting it is critical, adds Cunningham. She notes that the property already borders a large conservation area connected to Pinckney Retreat, a gated coastal community, making it a good candidate for conservation.

Port Royal pledges support

On Wednesday, Cunningham stood before Port Royal City Council asking for its support for the county’s purchase of the property. Beaufort County is seeking community site maintenance partners once the county acquires them for parks.

“I recognize that this is the corridor to Port Royal and that there is a lot of development here,” Cunningham said, “and it would be really wise of us to start thinking about the future now and protecting this property.”

Port Royal Mayor Joe DeVito told Cunningham that the city agreed with the proposal and would issue a proclamation of support at a future meeting. He also pointed out that Port Royal recently passed the toughest tree ordinance in Beaufort County — and perhaps the entire state.

At a ceremony in 2013 when it was presented with the 2013 State Heritage Tree Award by Trees SC, the live oak tree at Port Royal's Cherry Hill Plantation outnumbered two people.  The tree is estimated to be 350 years old.

At a ceremony in 2013 when it was presented with the 2013 State Heritage Tree Award by Trees SC, the live oak tree at Port Royal’s Cherry Hill Plantation outnumbered two people. The tree is estimated to be 350 years old.

Raised money for maintenance

Cunningham has previously spearheaded the creation of Friends of the Cherry Hill Oak, a non-profit organization whose goal is to raise $200,000 for a foundation that will be used to help public bodies in the ongoing care of the living oak tree and other significant ones Trees to support the property – when the land is purchased.

“Beaufort County residents want this park and we’re willing to work for it,” Cunningham told members of the Community Services in Land Use Committee in March.

In the shade of Cherry Hill Plantation's live oak tree, estimated to be more than three centuries old, Chuck Yahres clears debris from Mary Pope's gravestone at the base of the tree in the city of Port Royal on September 21, 2022.

In the shade of Cherry Hill Plantation’s live oak tree, estimated to be more than three centuries old, Chuck Yahres clears debris from Mary Pope’s gravestone at the base of the tree in the city of Port Royal on September 21, 2022.

The county council, which will have the final say on the purchase, will next vote on it sometime this summer. According to county records, the property was sold in 2007 for $1.1 million.

Cunningham, who lives at Pinckney Retreat, knew nothing about the iconic live oak tree when she went to the Port Royal reunion last fall.

“We realized we dodged that bullet,” Cunningham said of the Port Royal Design Review Board’s rejection of a height variance for the apartment complex, “but someone else is going to come and develop this property.”

Getting involved was out of her comfort zone. She had no interest in starting a Facebook page or foundation. And she didn’t want to ask people for money or talk to politicians. But she felt that if she didn’t step forward, the property “would be plowed up.” The Cherry Hill Oak, she said, has become something of a calling.

The massive live oak tree at Cherry Hill Plantation photographed September 21, 2022, n

The massive live oak tree at Cherry Hill Plantation photographed September 21, 2022, n

When she decided to start the non-profit organization, Cunningham turned to Paul Butare of Friends of Whitehall Park for help. This group was formed a few years ago to protect land on Lady’s Island across from Beaufort on the Beaufort River.

“I even wrote a friggin’ business plan,” Cunningham said. “It had to be done.”

Samantha Siegel, who started a movement in 2008 to save Angel Oak and the surrounding land from the threat of development, has become Cunningham’s “biggest cheerleader.”

Land would become a park

If approved by County Council, funds to purchase the Port Royal property would come from the county’s Rural and Critical Land Preservation Program and the property would be converted into a passive park and open to the public.

The land slopes down to shore and includes a sandy tongue of land that extends to the swampy backwaters of Battery Creek.

Kate Schaefer of the Beaufort County Open Land Trust, who advises the county on Rural and Critical Lands Program purchases, says an assessment and survey of the land is ongoing. She said the property would provide shelter and public access to water in a growing area of ​​Port Royal.

Cunningham points to the country’s problems and the resulting polarization, saying we live in a world on fire. “Instead of doing everything possible, we fight and denigrate each other,” she said.

When she heard about the Cherry Hill tree in her own backyard, she thought, “Here’s a little thing I can do.”

She sees things this way: if people in their part of the world took up a challenge, they could make a difference.

“There’s something that happens when you turn 65,” says Cunningham. “You will be confronted with your expiry date. It makes you want to leave something valuable behind.”

news.yahoo.com

https://news.yahoo.com/grandma-save-350-old-tree-193222914.html