The network of trails, wildlife viewing venues, and educational resources at LCNP now welcomes well over 100,000 visitors per year. LCNP continues to be 'fee-free' and highly accessible to a diverse community of patrons who enjoy the myriad benefits of immersion in nature, outdoor exercise, and healthy lifestyles. LCNP is the only Important Bird Area of Global Significance in Upstate SC, is the Upstate partner with South Carolina Audubon, has 221 species of birds identified, and is a regional must-see birding hotspot
CF’s portfolio of trails includes over a mile of wetland
boardwalks and bogwalks, more than any state park in the
state. The Foundation has more than a dozen wildlife viewing
stations and observation decks, and numerous picnic areas that double as teaching areas. Approximately six miles of
trails are hard surface and suitable for bicycles and are linked
to the City/County greenway system, the Swamp Rabbit Trail.
CF is also connected to the County's premier multi-use
recreation facility, Conestee Park. LCNP also has constructed
roughly eight miles of natural surface trails that welcome
hikers only. LCNP has 13 points of entry from the surrounding
Nature Education and Communication is at the core of CF's mission. Learning opportunities take a variety of forms to include formal school field trip programs guided by professional educators/naturalists, now hosting over 3500 children, K-12, each year. The nature park’s educator team also provides numerous topical adventures and outings to the general public with many targeting both families and senior citizens. One of the biggest educational impacts is through the network of forty self-guided "learning stations" along the trails. These high-quality educational stations teach natural history, human history, and the importance of stewardship of natural resources, wildlife, and watersheds. By virtue of the park’s central location in Greenville County, and within a 30- minute bus ride from nearly every school in the County, there are innumerable visits from schools within a 30-mile radius, including public and private schools, and home-schoolers.
With regard to Public-Private Partnerships and Access to/Use of Public Lands, CF also partners extensively with Clemson University, Wofford College, Furman University, and Greenville Technical College to deliver educational programming but also to take advantage of the technical capabilities of these institutions. CF also has ongoing cooperative conservation programs with SC Audubon, Upstate Forever, NRCS, and Trees Upstate.
All manner of outdoor recreation takes place at LCNP. The park’s trails host hikers, bikers, birders, and dog walkers all of whom must stay on marked trails, as 97 percent of this wild space is managed as a "Do Not Disturb" sanctuary for wildlife. The community of patrons is diverse, and includes local patrons, but also tourists, as LCNP is now recognized as a bonafide "ecotourism" attraction. Because of the unique ambiance and nature present at LCNP, an extraordinary number of elderly patrons visit and love the wilds, and a particular theme promoted, "a place to go slow and be quiet." LCNP is also a beloved venue for runners and bikers, and the connections to other trail systems link us as an alternate transportation option.
Over the two decades since its creation, the Conestee
Foundation has developed an extraordinarily diverse and rich
array of relationships. The Foundation has formal agreements
with both Greenville County and the City of Greenville, both of
which provide operational stipends to support LCNP's trail
system, habitats, educational programming, and even the
ecosystem services provided by forests and wetlands. In
addition, CF receives grants from local private foundations,
industrial partners, and allied conservation organizations.
Over the years CF has received significant grants from 5 numerous organizations including the local Community Foundation, 3M, Michelin, Duke Energy Foundation, ReWa, Greenville County, NRCS, SCDHEC, Upstate Forever, and several private foundations. These funds have been used as match on SCPRT Recreational Trails Program grants, special construction grants, land purchases, maintenance equipment, and special environmental studies.
Through the local United Way, the community's "Hands On Greenville" volunteer day, has provided over 25,000 hours of remarkable volunteer service to LCNP over the last 10 years. This local partnership has been primarily in alliance with General Electric whose volunteers provide support for construction projects, habitat maintenance, tree planting, trail building, and maintenance, as well as cleanups and removal of invasive non-native plants. CF also provides extensive volunteer opportunities to local schools, civic groups, and scout organizations. The Conestee Foundation’s partnerships with and reliance on volunteer support is unequaled in their community and a model for other non-profit organizations.
An experience that underscores the attention to unique local needs is that of a local handicapped patron, "Judy." Judy, in her 60s, but spry and energetic, had spent her life in a wheelchair due to childhood polio. One day she rolled up to the Preserve office, after wheeling over a mile along with one of the paved trails. She wanted to make a contribution for a special bench, at a special location, so she could get out of her wheelchair to rest and watch one of her favorite wetlands. Being of a very direct demeanor, she said, 'now meet me at this location, and I'll show you what I want.' That day, in the rain, she told the Nature Park director, 'now get down on your knee so you have my sightline.' At that point, Mr. Hargett suddenly appreciated that many of the trails and wildlife viewing stations were not as 'friendly' to the mobility-impaired as the park really needed them to be, so there was a need for an Accessibility Enhancement. Not only did they build a bench for Judy, but they also built an entire wetland observation deck, with benches, all mobility-impaired friendly, for Judy and her other wheelchair friends to enjoy. This was a volunteer project for which over 30 volunteers engaged in construction. Since that time, CF has constantly endeavored to make trails and trailside amenities as wheelchair-friendly as possible.
CF operates as a “very lean and frugal conservation organization should,” says Dave Hargett. Their annual operating budget is under $400K, and much of that goes to subsidize educational programming, community outreach, and to maintain the extensive trail system. The typical annual restricted budget for special construction projects varies from $200K to $400K, partly because of their ownership of a significant dam. The Foundation has nine staff members, and nearly all are part-time.
As a "fee-free" Nature Preserve — accessible to the surrounding communities — CF is wholly dependent on community support from local municipal and county government, grants, and charitable contributions. They 6 engage social media extensively for fundraising for special projects and are highly reliant on volunteer, corporate, and private support of both their operations and special projects. CF's contributions to the surrounding communities have been remarkable. The conversion of a formerly forgotten and forlorn area of the county to the community's premier nature preserve and educational venue has stimulated growth in all directions. CF has had tens of millions of investment — literally across the road — in several directions, in residential and commercial developments, and schools, with numerous other projects in planning. These projects all take full advantage of being located "by the park," a recognition of the impact on the local economy and quality of life.
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