Bequest to Lowcountry Open Land Trust results in new Charleston County park

Image by Margaret Blackmer

The enduring wish of one of Charleston’s great preservationists – the late Emily Ravenel Farrow – became a reality on September 14th as the 44-acre Ashem Farm was introduced as one of the county’s next public park spaces. 

In a novel approach to land conservation and preservation, Mrs. Farrow left the farm to Lowcountry Open Land Trust  (LOLT), which transferred the land to the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission (PRC) for public use, realizing Mrs. Farrow’s desire for others to enjoy and learn from the land she loved.

Long a mysterious landscape locked behind an iron gate on Old Towne Road in West Ashley, the property next door to Charles Towne Landing  was originally protected by a conservation easement Mrs. Farrow donated to the Historic Charleston Foundation. The easement permanently limited the potential subdivision and development of the valuable acreage.

But Mrs. Farrow also wanted the public to benefit from the land – a jewel of green space surrounded largely by established neighborhoods and across a creek from Charles Towne Landing. She named LOLT – a nonprofit land preservation group based in Charleston – as the beneficiary and recipient of Ashem upon her death (which occurred April 26).

A novel partnership in conservation and preservation occurred when LOLT in turn agreed to sell the rare property to the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission (PRC) for use as a preserved, public park. The PRC paid $3.4 million, 65% of the market rate. Properties protected by conservation easements – which limit development – are valued below market rates.

Speaking of the novel bequest and partnership it fostered, LOLT Executive Director Elizabeth Hagood said: “A gift of this magnitude is transformative, both to the Land Trust and to Charleston.  The commitment of these community groups to work together to honor Mrs. Farrow’s intent and make her dream a reality is a remarkable convergence of shared vision and expert capacity.”

Added PRC Executive Director, Tom O’Rourke:  “It has been an honor to represent the citizens of Charleston County in acquiring this property for their perpetual enjoyment.  We are excited to work with our neighbors in West Ashley, and our partners, Lowcountry Open Land Trust and Historic Charleston Foundation, to protect this property forever as Mrs. Farrow intended.“

Additionally, the PRC will add to Ashem an 11-acre tract it owns along Old Towne Road, creating a 55-acre expanse.  PRC will conduct a public master planning process for the entire property, which will include an archaeological and historical survey, and a waterfront access study.  Ashem is located in the county’s Blue Water Trail area, and is likely to be prized by area paddlers.

The Land Trust will also engage in a formal, strategic visioning process to fully maximize the impact of Mrs. Farrow’s gift for conservation.

Historic Charleston Foundation’s executive director, Kitty Robinson, capped the presentation by noting: “Mrs. Farrow loved Charleston. She loved the land. And she loved people. We can think of no greater tribute to her legacy than this: a public park that will allow future generations to experience the beauty and peace of the Lowcountry.”

Ashem Farm is the former home of the St. Andrew’s Parish Riding Academy, where hundreds of children and adults learned to ride horses under the tutelage of “Miss Em,” a prize-winning rider. Ashem was also a working soybean and vegetable farm.

The Lowcountry Open Land Trust, now in its 25th year, will use the proceeds of the sale to enhance its land conservation and stewardship programs, which currently protect 83,366 acres of land in the region.

  • The Post and Courier has addition coverage on the Ashem property; read it here.

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