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Update 6/20/2023: The Black River Initiative Master Plan Network wins 2023 ASLA Southeast Regional Honor Award for Analysis and Planning after having received the 2022 ASLA SC Award of Excellence for Analysis and Planning

The Black River Water Trail & Park Network Master Plan has been recognized by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) for two years in a row.  Last year, the South Carolina Chapter honored the Black River Initiative with an Award of Excellence, one of the association’s highest awards recognizing exemplary projects that reach beyond the project’s purpose. This year, ASLA’s Southeast Region, consisting of the Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina state chapters, selected the project for the Honor Award, recognizing the master plan’s innovations around environmental and natural resource planning.

The Purpose

The Open Space Institute (OSI)South Carolina Parks Recreation and Tourism (SCPRT), and The Nature Conservancy, with a steering committee of conservation partners and community members, commissioned a master plan to envision a series of linked riverside public and private parks along a 70-mile stretch of South Carolina’s Black River. Grassroots support from local river partners fueled the fire that generated the request for proposals to preserve, protect, and celebrate the valuable natural and cultural history of the greater Black River waterway for future generations.

The Team

The consultant team was tasked with providing a roadmap for the development of a series of public spaces where the connecting thread would be the Black River. Led by Earth Design — and guided by OSI’s Dr. Maria Whitehead, OSI’s Michaela Roberts (AICP), and SCPRT’s Terry Hurley — the team of Craig Gaulden Davis, Arnett Muldrow, and ADC Engineering documented a plan that explores recreational and educational opportunities along the river across Williamsburg and Georgetown counties and past historic communities including Kingstree, Andrews, and Choppee. The team gathered information to provide site analyses, community input, land use plans, and a final master plan of what the Black River Water Trail & Park Network could be.

An Inclusive Process

The effort is an example of how a project can engage communities in the planning process and give ownership to citizens who have experienced past marginalization. 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. Through the planning process, the team sought to provide equitable access for communities to not only be the benefactors of the plan, but also be equitable participants in its creation. Studied through the lens of conservation, the project provides opportunities to access a treasure known to many but enjoyed by few. The challenge was integrating the needs of national and local organizations from both public and private entities. The Black River Initiative brings together varied stakeholders into a focused effort to provide a planning resource that crosses generational and geographic boundaries.





Mac Stone Photo Courtesy The Nature Conservancy





Dana Beach Photo Courtesy the Open Space Institute





Mac Stone Photo Courtesy the Open Space Institute




Maria Whitehead Courtesy the Open Space Institute




Erin Pate Photo of Black River Cypress Preserve




Mac Stone Photo Courtesy the Open Space Institute




Philip and Mackenzie Henry Courtesy the Open Space Institute