Sea Pines, Hilton Head - A bike along a wooden fence in a flower field

Communities nurturing open spaces

Guardians of the green

Story Karen by Moraghan

“Land is valuable,” the old saying goes, “because there’s only so much of it to go around.” That has special meaning in the Lowcountry, where a lot of real estate has been developed for commercial and residential use. But those of us lucky enough to live here take great pride in the natural environment — it’s one of the reasons we came here — and work hard to preserve and protect it.

Fortunately, the Open Land Trust, South Carolina’s oldest land trust, is working to conserve open spaces, natural habitats and rural communities throughout the Lowcountry. 

Nearly all of our area’s communities have set aside significant portions of their property as nature preserves and dedicated open spaces. These many acres add to the aesthetic beauty while providing an important habitat for plants and animals as well as a source of recreation and connection to the outdoors, improving the quality of life for all of us. Here’s how a number of our neighbors are keeping things wild.

Sea Pines 

Charles Fraser, founder of Sea Pines, was a forerunner of the environmental movement, “green” before green was cool. When he founded Sea Pines 68 years ago, it was among the first communities where development — homes, a resort and golf courses — co-existed with the natural surroundings, with an early commitment to preserve more than a quarter of the property’s 5,200 acres as open space.

Nearly half of that acreage is the 605-acre Forest Preserve. Open from dawn to dusk, the preserve is a wonderful area to explore aboard guided boat tours, fishing expeditions, wagon tours, on horseback or on foot. Within this pristine space is the 4,000-year-old Sea Pines Shell Ring, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and Warner W. Plahs Wildflower Field. Elevated boardwalks offer marsh and wildlife viewing of Old Lawton Rice Field and a secluded forest through the Vanishing Swamp.

Bridge to Fish Island in Sea Pines Forest Preserve

Hilton Head Plantation

Residents of this north end community enjoy more than seven miles of paths — easily accessible by walkers, bikers and rollerbladers — marked with interpretive signage and maps. 

The Cypress Conservancy is a small, protected ecosystem of large cypress trees, blooming water plants, marsh deer and a great variety of birds. The conservancy is administered by the property owner’s association (POA) and Hilton Head Land Trust.

The 127-acre Whooping Crane Conservancy is home to a wide variety of animals native to the region. Osprey, owls, hawks and many small birds nest here. Nature trails and a boardwalk meander through this preserved forest and wetlands, with benches along the way at prime observation spots. 

Pine Island, located in the Dolphin Head Recreation area on the Intracoastal Waterway of Port Royal Sound, contains a large marsh area and a beach ideal for walking, sunning and fishing. The nearby Dolphin Head Recreation playground has a picnic area and a mile-long path along Port Royal Sound.

Pine Island, Hilton Head Plantation
©Maddie Terry

Colleton River 

Adjacent to and part of Colleton River is the 977-acre Victoria Bluff Heritage Preserve and Wildlife Management Area. Managed by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, this nature sanctuary offers hiking loops and bicycle trails through maritime forests shaded by Southern live oaks and Sabal Palmettos, where wild turkey, migratory songbirds and white-tailed deer abound. Public parking is on Colleton River Drive near Bayley Road.

Victoria Bluff Heritage Preserve and Wildlife Management Area
©Maddie Terry

Moss Creek 

Fording Island is one of the three nature preserves in this 1,050-acre community, where a series of connected boardwalks provide beautiful scenic walks through the salt marsh. Moss Creek is certified as a Community Wildlife Habitat through the National Wildlife Federation and the South Carolina Wildlife Federation. Achieving certification included cleaning litter from roadsides and waterways, building and maintaining nesting boxes for bluebirds, bats and owls, holding garden tours, posting “Fox Squirrel Crossing” signs on roadways, planting native plants in a demonstration pollinator garden and engaging community members through education and outreach events.

Moss Creek is certified as a Community Wildlife Habitat through the National Wildlife Federation and the South Carolina Wildlife Federation
©Moss creek

Berkeley Hall

Set along the waters of the Okatie River, Berkeley Hall’s River Park offers a peaceful retreat. The Berkeley Hall Greenway affords a variety of activities for residents, including 10 miles of trails and the River Park and community dock. The club’s Capt. Eric Burns, an interpretative naturalist, conducts weekly two-hour kayak nature tours.

Berkeley Hall’s River Park


Residents here enjoy 33 acres of protected wetlands and nature preserve, walking trails, a bird rookery and Hidden Lake.  

Belfair's protected wetlands and nature preserve

Rose Hill Plantation

Inside the community is a 50-acre park with walking and biking trails, a fishing and crabbing dock, kayaking, canoeing, and small-craft boat launch, as well as bocce ball courts, a playground and picnic tables. Additionally, the Rose Hill Equestrian Center covers another 50 acres, including a 22-acre polo field and 17 miles of horseback-riding trails.

Rose Hill Plantation

Hampton Lake

The community’s 165-acre freshwater lake offers seven miles of navigable waterways and 15 miles of shoreline. It is surrounded by a 340-acre nature preserve, laced with nine miles of walking and biking trails.

Hampton Lake 340-acre nature preserve and freshwater

Crescent Pointe 

The community’s Arnold Palmer Signature Course borders the Victoria Bluff Heritage Preserve, where visitors can explore four miles of easy walking trails and discover botanical wonders such as Pondspice, a rare plant. The preserve is primarily managed for hunting and closed to hikers from October to December.

Victoria Bluff Heritage Preserve

Sun City

One of the largest communities in the area, Sun City Hilton Head sprawls over more than 5,725 acres. It keeps 1,500 of those acres as open land and wetlands with 7 1/2 miles of walking trails and paths.

Sun City Hilton Head - Nature Preserve

Fairways to the future 

Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf

The Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf is an award-winning certification program that assists golf courses in protecting the environment while preserving the natural heritage of the game. The program is open to residential golf communities and golf clubs. It takes a good deal of work and financial commitment to achieve this certification. There are 13 area courses with the designation:

  • Atlantic Dunes, Heron Point and Harbour Town Golf Links at The Sea Pines Resort
  • South and North Courses at Moss Creek 
  • Arthur Hills, Robert Trent Jones and George Fazio courses at Palmetto Dunes Resort 
  • Okatie Creek and Hidden Cypress at Sun City
  • Hampton Hall Club in Bluffton
  • Belfair in Bluffton
  • Oldfield in Okatie
Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf

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