Environmental Review Toolkit
Water, Wetlands, and Wildlife

see caption
A stream winds through a section of the preserve set aside for the Carolina Bays Parkway project. (SCDOT)
section of the parkway and roadside
The Parkway will help ease congestion in the Myrtle Beach area. (SCDOT)

South Carolina Department of Transportation

Carolina Bays Ecosystem Initiative

The Challenge: Myrtle Beach in Horry County, South Carolina is more than a golfer's paradise. It's home to some of the most pristine natural areas in the southeastern United States. The largest population of black bears in South Carolina and endangered species like the Venus Flytrap and the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker make their home there. And one of the rarest wetlands in the Nation—the Carolina Bay—lies in Horry County, surrounded by a ring of sand. As for golf courses and other tourist attractions, Myrtle Beach draws some 14 million visitors each year, most coming by car. And according to the 2000 Census, Horry County, is the 12th fastest-growing county in the Nation. Parts of the county experienced a 45% growth from 1990 to 2000, and Myrtle Beach is fast becoming a significant retirement destination for large numbers of "snow birds" from northern States.

To help ease traffic congestion resulting from this increased growth, the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) built the 28-mile Carolina Bays Parkway—a model transportation project funded by local, State, and Federal organizations. Before the Parkway opened in 2002, SCDOT and FHWA received numerous requests for additional interchanges—parkway additions with the potential for increased impacts to the natural areas located along the route.

Meeting this transportation demand without fragmenting the county's black bear population and without jeopardizing other fragile ecosystems required innovative solutions and collaborative partnerships. So key transportation and resource-agency leaders came together to explore strategies which would allow for reasonable growth but focus development away from critical natural resources.

The Compromise: Group members came up with an approach that would protect and enhance the project area's Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve and the wildlife corridor connecting it to swamp habitats. The preserve is a 9,383-acre tract owned and managed by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), and it's one of the last remaining plots of undisturbed natural area in Horry County. Lewis Ocean Bay is also a known black bear travel corridor and home to several populations of rare Red-Cockaded Woodpeckers and Venus Flytraps. That's not all. The preserve holds 23 undisturbed Carolina Bay wetland sites—the largest concentration of Carolina Bay wetland areas in all of the southeastern United States.

To protect and enhance these at-risk areas, the working group agreed on these commitments: First, SCDOT and FHWA would put $2.5 million in an escrow account to be spent on preserving and expanding the preserve and its wildlife corridor. Second, an Ecosystem Committee would oversee how this money was spent—a committee made up of members of the SCDNR, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

From the beginning, private landowners were involved as part of the solution rather than a piece of the problem. In exchange for one of the new interchanges on the Carolina Bays Parkway, private landowners will be donating to SCDNR a 320-acre tract called Tiger Bay—an in-holding within the Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve.

For more information contact Patrick Tyndall at Patrick.tyndall@fhwa.dot.gov.

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