The much anticipated purchase of 9.72 acres of scenic, riverfront peninsula on Lady’s Island in the City of Beaufort, commonly known as the Whitehall Tract, was closed on October 23, 2018. Whitehall Park is owned by Beaufort County and the City of Beaufort has agreed to maintain and operate the Park, with the Open Land Trust holding a conservation easement to ensure the Park’s perpetual protection. The Open Land Trust has also accepted perpetual responsibility for the care of the majestic trees that define the Park’s scenic views. These entities will continue to work together, along with the Friends of Whitehall organization, to make the park an exceptional legacy for both residents and visitors to the area.
During the last two decades, the highly visible Whitehall property, approximately 20 acres total, was sold several times to various developers with proposals that were never implemented. Community advocates carefully watched and reported on development plans, resulting in a public outcry over a proposed density increase to accommodate seven apartment buildings that was approved in February 2018. In July 2018, the Open Land Trust made a final effort to purchase a portion of the property before permitting was to begin on the approved 20-acre buildout. Sam Levin, local resident and partner in the Whitehall Development Group agreed to negotiate terms for the sale of ~10 acres.
The Friends of Whitehall Park self-organized in early August 2018 immediately after learning that a park project was being considered. Paul Butare, President of Friends, and its Directors felt that a call to action in engaging the public was a key to success. They created a website and Facebook page, created an online petition for citizens to demonstrate support. As the number of signatures grew, so did public and decision makers awareness. Friends encouraged attendance at City and Council public meetings, encouraged supporters to contact their elected local representatives and organized “A Walk in the Park” to allow the public actually visit the park. Ultimately, the 6,000 signatures collected and the show of support by the public helped sway the decision favorably.
The initiative was also fortunate to receive early financial support from the Felburn Foundation, a private foundation with a mission to promote the preservation of natural lands, waters, biodiversity, education and quality of life. The Foundation provided a $1 million grant to leverage County and other funds for purchase of the park. Larry White, President of the Felburn Foundation and a Lady’s Island resident was always a positive presence at the public meetings in support of a passive park at Whitehall.
The opportunity to create Whitehall Park did not happen by accident – it came about through the dedicated, passionate, and hard work of advocates, the vocal and financial support of the community, and courageous decisions by our elected officials. If you have the opportunity, please extend your appreciation to these individuals and groups. Because of them, Whitehall Park is now ours - a park for all.