Preserving the preserve

Hilton Head’s hidden gem is back to beautiful following Hurricane Matthew thanks to a dedicated team of locals.

Story by David Warren + Photography by Mike Ritterback

Rita Kernan, vice chairman of the Audubon Newhall Preserve, is shown with one of the many informational signs found on the property.

The year was 1965, and Sea Pines had been in full development mode for over a decade. Even though an environmentally sensitive development plan was being executed, one island resident saw that no matter how carefully you build roads, golf courses, and marinas, you still might disrupt the native wildlife and plants in the area.

Caroline “Beany” Newhall was a small woman with a big heart, and that heart was for the natural beauty of Hilton Head Island. She also had another asset, and that was the ear of Sea Pines developer, Charles Fraser. Together, they realized that the beauty of Hilton Head should take precedence throughout the development process. Charles originally wanted Beany to help develop the Sea Pines Forest Preserve, but she felt this would be too big a project for her. Instead, Charles gave Beany 50 acres to create a “woodland area” that captured and would preserve the Sea Islands’ environment as it had been for thousands of years. Thus began the life of the Audubon Newhall Preserve.

In 1976 Beany deeded the Preserve to the Hilton Head Audubon Society, together with an endowment for ongoing maintenance. Newhall Preserve today looks precisely like what Charles and Beany imagined – three miles of trails surrounded by a pond with a variety of plants, animals and bird life that captures the Lowcountry as it was before any bulldozers moved the first yard of dirt.

Caroline “Beany” Newhall was a small woman with a big heart. She created Hilton Head’s Audubon Newhall Preserve.

This woodland sanctuary is not only the result of Beany’s vision and Charles’ generosity, but it also reflects thousands of hours of work from some of Hilton Head’s most dedicated volunteers. With the contribution of local companies, organizations and Beany and Charles, the Audubon Newhall Preserve is genuinely an island treasure. Located off Palmetto Bay Road between the Sea Pines Circle and the Cross Island Expressway, the Preserve is a beautiful walk in the woods, complete with wide paths and hundreds of small signs describing plants and animals that make this a relaxing and educational experience. Benches scattered throughout allow for a quiet sit to let the natural beauty come to you. “It’s simply a jewel in the southern part of Hilton Head,” said Rita Kernan, vice chairman of the Audubon Newhall Preserve.

What you will see:

Once inside the Preserve, you will find trail maps that outline several routes you can take to enjoy the sanctuary.

Plants and Trees: Because of our geographic location and weather patterns, the Lowcountry has a remarkable assortment of plants and trees. Hundreds of native area plants are found with small descriptive signs explaining their importance. Many of the plants you see have been transplanted from Sea Pines as development grew. Because the Preserve has several topographies, from wetlands to pine forests, there is a remarkable variety of plant life and trees.

Animals: Like any pristine environment, this has become a home for many of the local animals. Deer, squirrels, alligators and a whole assortment of creatures live inside the preserve. If you sit quietly, animal life will be more active as you rest and observe.

Birds: Beaufort County has become a birder’s delight as the east coast is the migrational highway for millions of birds as they travel south for the winter and return in spring. The Audubon Newhall Preserve acts as a unique location to see a wide variety of birdlife as they rest and refresh on their journeys. In addition, herons, egrets, owls, songbirds, hawks and much more, live in and or visit the Audubon Newhall Preserve.

The Butterfly Garden: Special plants have been added to attract a wide variety of local and migrating butterflies. Each season, an astonishing array of some of the most beautiful creatures on earth stop at the butterfly garden for a visit.

Preserving the Preserve

One of the most devastating events to the Preserve was in October 2016 when Hurricane Matthew destroyed countless trees and blocked paths throughout the area. After an exhaustive cleanup, plus the help of some generous donations, the Audubon Newhall Preserve has replanted hundreds of longleaf pine saplings. “Because of commercial use and development, less than 2 percent of the East Coast’s original longleaf pine forests remain,” said Glen McCaskey, a local environmental expert. “This replenishment project is really a wonderful step in the right direction, and the type of conservation that both Charles and Beany would have wanted.” Mike Jukofski donated his tractor and topsoil for the project.

Matt Mattoon, Tom Hennessey, Rita Kernan and Bob Clemens are shown next to the new Jack Greenshields gate. Greenshields was chairman of the Audubon Newhall Preserve.

When to visit

There is no charge for visiting the Audubon Newhall Preserve. It is open from sunrise to sunset all year long. Come by and see how an idea that was hatched 45 years ago has worked to protect and preserve some of the precious wildlife and the original natural splendor of Hilton Head.