CHARLESTON — The U.S. Forest Service is revisiting its plans for managing the sprawling Francis Marion National Forest just south of Georgetown County, almost two decades after the plan was last updated.
The agency is holding a series of public hearings on using the almost 600,000 acres that were designated as national forest back in 1939. However, the area was inhabited long before that: a shell ring shows Native Americans lived in the area 4,000 years ago.
Later, the trails and swamps in the forest were used as a base of operations against the British by Revolutionary War Gen. Francis Marion, more popularly known as the Swamp Fox, for whom the forest is named.
From a later era, the forest encompasses Battery Warren, the remnants of a Confederate Battery built to guard the Santee River from federal troops.
It's been nearly two decades since the plan for how forest lands should be used was last revised. That 1996 plan generally dealt with recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Hugo, which wiped out about a third of the forest with its 135 mph winds in 1989.
Part of that plan outlined efforts to remove shrubs and vegetation that grew up on the forest floor in the wake of the hurricane and presented a fire danger. Much of that material was removed and used to generate power, a process that continues today.
One challenge for planners today is encroachment on rural forest. Suburban areas spreading north from Charleston have expanded toward the forest boundaries in recent years.
The forest is divided into five management areas: Santee, Hellhole, Northampton, Wambow and Waterhorn. They each provide different habitats and outdoor opportunities for visitors including hunting, hiking, ATV riding, camping and horseback riding in designated areas, according to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources website.
A public hearing is scheduled for Tuesday in North Charleston to gather public comment on recreational and tourism opportunities.