Charleston County’s Greenbelt Program is considered one of the top five local government land and water conservation and protection programs in the United States. It has earned national significance through its efficient and effective strategy. Charleston County takes a unique approach and has thus been recognized for its three major efforts.
First, the Greenbelt Program has conserved and protected more than 15,000 acres of highly valued Lowcountry rural and urban open space in just a few short years. This staggering achievement shows the overwhelming dedication by landowners, residents and conservation partners.
Second, the program quickly generated the purchasing power necessary to efficiently and effectively fulfill the program’s mission. Through taxes and donations, the program was able to raise $160 million. Only a few local government conservation programs have matched the purchasing power and short timeline of Charleston County.
Third, Charleston County has successfully conserved and protected a diverse array of areas including wetland, forestland, farmland, boating and fishing access areas, parkland, and greenways. The program emphasizes conservation, protection and acquisition.
The Greenbelt Program’s success is mainly due to a sales tax increase, which began more than five years ago.
The Charleston County voters voted the sales tax increase into effect in November 2004. They passed a half-cent sales tax increase to provide critically needed funding in support of transportation improvements and conservation of Lowcountry open space. It took only a couple years for this sales tax to return huge dividends.
The Greenbelt Program is a model of other counties throughout South Carolina as well as the U.S. Its efficient strategy demonstrates how to create and implement a community-based land and water conservation program, without being a financial burden.