Black River Initiative Master Plan commissioned by Open Space Institute, TNC, South Carolina Parks Recreation and Tourism, wins landscape architecture award; plan sets blueprint for a series of linked riverside parks along a 70-mile stretch of Black River

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CHARLESTON, South Carolina , June 20, 2023 (press release) –

The Open Space Institute-led Black River Initiative Master Plan has been honored with a top accolade by the Southeast Region of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA).

The Black River Initiative Master Plan was commissioned by the Open Space Institute (OSI), The Nature Conservancy, and South Carolina Parks Recreation and Tourism (SCPRT). The plan establishes a blueprint for a series of linked riverside parks — including South Carolina’s first new state park in 20 years — along a 70-mile stretch of the Black River.

ASLA’s Southeast Region, consisting of the Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina state chapters, selected the Black River Initiative Master Plan for the Honor Award in its “Analysis and Planning” category, recognizing the plan’s innovations around environmental and natural resource planning. Last year, the South Carolina chapter of the ASLA also honored the Master Plan with an Award of Excellence.

“The Black River Initiative Master Plan is reconnecting residents to the Black River while safeguarding the region’s beauty, ecological value, and potential as a world-class tourism destination,” said Dr. Maria Whitehead, OSI vice president of land for the Southeast. “OSI is honored by this recognition. We thank the American Society of Landscape Architects for their support of this groundbreaking initiative.”

The Black River Initiative Master Plan was spearheaded by Earth Design, and guided by OSI’s Dr. Whitehead and Michaela Roberts, AICP, together with SCPRT’s Terry Hurley. The design team included Craig Gaulden Davis, Arnett Muldrow, and ADC Engineering, Inc.

“This effort was an example of how a project can engage communities in the planning process and give ownership to citizens who have experienced past marginalization,” said Holley Owings, PLA, Earth Design Principal.

“We are grateful for the regional recognition this project is receiving,” said Charles Gunning, Assoc. AIA, Craig Gaulden Davis Principal. “It’s a shining example of how multiple partners, who often have different needs, can come together to create something that is more than just the collective sum of the individual visions.”

During the planning process, the team explored recreational and educational opportunities along the river, focusing on Williamsburg and Georgetown counties and the historic communities of Kingstree, Andrews, and Choppee. Throughout the effort, the team sought input from residents, with the ultimate goal of providing equitable access for communities that have historically lacked public access to the river.

The plan highlights opportunities to protect the region’s wildlife habitat and cultural resources, with a focus on growing economic opportunities for rural communities through improved access to nature-based recreation. The plan also includes initiatives to mitigate the impacts of severe weather and climate change — critical concerns for residents of this low-lying region.

Since the release of the plan last year, the Black River Initiative has received strong funding and support, including $4.6 million in federal funding championed by Senator Lindsey Graham.

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