Founded by Greenville attorney and conservationist Brad Wyche in 1998, Upstate Forever is the first land-trust organization in South Carolina to receive national accreditation. Today, it protects more than 21,000 acres on 114 properties throughout the 10 counties in Upstate South Carolina. For all they do to foster the wonderful quality of life in our communities, Upstate Forever has been designated this year’s winner of the Community Spirit Award, which is bestowed on an outstanding local nonprofit that serves the community through its programs and partnerships.
Why does Upstate Forever deserve this accolade? According to CEO of ScanSource and Upstate Forever board member Mike Baur: “I support Upstate Forever because I live, work, and play here, as do ScanSource employees. I believe strongly in Upstate Forever’s mission to lead the charge in protecting our region’s character and am proud to support this effort.”
Executive Director Andrea Cooper, who came to Upstate Forever three years ago, talks more about this.
How do you feel about winning the Community Spirit Award? We are honored, as developing partnerships and collaborating on efforts are very effective to achieve impact and maximize resources.
How does Upstate Forever work behind the scenes to make our region a better place? >> That’s the crux of what we deal with. We have programs for land conservation, and we work with utilities to protect the quality of drinking water. We have a staff of 17 people, and we’re working every day, essentially on the community’s behalf, to improve the quality of life, not only for current residents but future residents, by increasing access to recreation and reducing sprawl. There’s subdivision after subdivision going up in southern Greenville County, and if we don’t work with our local farmers to have the land protected, we’ll lose the character of that area.
What are some of the ongoing programs you are working with this year? >> We have a lot of irons in the fire. Our Land Trust works with landowners in southern Greenville County who are interested in protecting their land. That builds on a project we completed last year called Upstate Critical Lands Mapping Project in partnership with Furman University and funded by Pacolet Milliken. We developed a map driven by water quality, but it layered all of our conservation values. We’ve mapped parcel by parcel, so we know the most critical lands to protect from a water-quality perspective.
What do you consider Upstate Forever’s most significant recent accomplishment? >> We’ve had a couple of what we call ‘Goliaths,’ which is when an issue related to land, water, or community character just sort of arises. Recently, there was a proposed development [of 254 homes] at Glassy Mountain, a Heritage Preserve site in Pickens County. The development was not in keeping with the community character, which is more rural. That’s another example of where we worked with other conservation organizations to find a solution, and ultimately that property was permanently protected.
“The Upstate of South Carolina is experiencing unprecedented growth As more and more people discover our charming towns, bustling cities, and scenic settings bursting with culture, wildlife, and nature. We are proud to support Community Spirit Award winner Upstate Forever for their tireless commitment to preserving the natural beauty and character of the Upstate.” —David Sawyer, president, The Cliffs Clubs
How do you engage the public in your work? >> People understand an issue when it hits close to home. One of the best ways to engage the public is to make the connection. Sprawl starts to mean something when you have a 45- minute commute, or when you start seeing the green space in your neighborhood being paved over without any trees. These are things people have an emotional investment in.
Is there a sense of urgency in your work? >> Part of the reason we developed a new strategic plan is that it really hones in on what is needed now because time is of the essence. We don’t have unlimited time to protect green spaces and balance growth. There’s a lot at stake, and we can make positive change, but it does need to happen very quickly. Ten years from now, it will be too late.