Upstate Forever (UF) is a nonprofit conservation group that works to balance growth with natural resource protection. Our mission is to protect our region’s critical lands and waters, especially in the face of rapid sprawl. We advocate for an environmentally healthy, economically prosperous Upstate where residents experience a high quality of life because our region’s natural assets are maintained and preserved through conservation and smart growth. Our programs include Land Conservation, Clean Water, Energy and State Policy, and Land Planning and Policy.
Land Conservation: UF was the first land trust in South Carolina to receive national accreditation. Our Land Conservation program partners with landowners to protect special places through permanent conservation easements. In 2021, our team protected approximately 3,600 acres of private and public forests, farmlands, and greenspaces across the ten Upstate counties we serve. Through our partner projects with other nonprofits, we also successfully protected an additional 900 acres.
Clean Water: Our Clean Water team partners with a diverse group of stakeholders to ensure water quality and quantity are protected, especially as population pressure increases. We focus on keeping streams, rivers, and lakes healthy and protecting watershed lands critical to clean drinking water.
Energy & State Policy: UF has recently emerged as leader in energy advocacy. We work at the state and local level to fight unnecessary infrastructure and lay the groundwork for regulations and policy that encourages flexible and cost-effective clean renewable energy, energy storage, demand side management, and energy efficiency.
Land Planning and Policy: With the Upstate’s projected population growth estimated to reach nearly 1,750,000 – an increase of 64% since 1990 – by 2040, our Land Planning and Policy team works diligently to facilitate plans and policies to accommodate that growth. Where and how growth occurs directly impacts residents’ quality of life and the region’s natural assets. We believe that growth should be directed to already urbanized areas equipped with supporting infrastructure.
Greenville City and County recently adopted Comprehensive Plans, which include targeted goals to advance smart growth. Historically, such plans have too often remained underrealized and never enacted with policy. However, we are excited to see the City and County drafting new ordinances to support implementation of their Comprehensive Plans.
Current priority efforts in Greenville County
We have seen growth within the City of Greenville, but Greenville County is growing rapidly, too, with 220,000+ new residents projected by 2040.
In early 2020, County Council unanimously adopted a widely supported Comprehensive Plan that envisions protecting natural assets while accommodating growth by directing most new development to the county’s center, where infrastructure can support it. To help realize this vision, Greenville County is drafting a new Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) to replace existing zoning and land development regulations.
The new UDO should enact the community’s future vision by allowing higher density development in already urbanized areas and limiting development intensity in rural, undeveloped areas with remaining forests and farmlands. The UDO should also respect the community’s desire to protect natural assets by strengthening open space requirements in the county’s rural conservation subdivision design standards, as well as tree canopy and riparian buffer protection countywide. Riparian buffers play an enormous role in preventing severe flooding events and stabilizing streambanks, thereby protecting water quality and critical habitats.
Land conservation is critical to water quality as well. In fact, the Trust for Public Lands found that every $1 spent on land protection saves $27 on water treatment costs, reinforcing the crucial relationship between land conservation and water quality, and the essential role that local conservation banks and funding can play in protecting water quality and residents’ quality of life. Keep an eye out for our kiosks along the Swamp Rabbit trail to learn more about how we’re protecting Greenville’s water sources.
City of Greenville
The City is currently developing the GVL Development Code to implement their new comprehensive plan: GVL 2040. This multi-year, once-in-a-decade process intends to overhaul zoning and land development regulations to direct most future growth to nodes and corridors through traditional, higher density urban development. To realize this vision, the new Code must ensure smart growth that is more urban and less suburban.
Three priorities are driving the new Code: preserving greenspace, offering more affordable housing, and reducing dependence on cars. Our Land Planning and Policy team closely monitors and advocates for provisions in the Code to advance these community goals. We advocate for incentives and requirements that promote upward, not outward forms of development; green and open spaces within developments; diverse housing types that suit their location, such as taller buildings on major streets and house-size buildings in walkable neighborhoods; pockets of higher density, walkable, mixed-use development that make efficient public transit feasible; complete streets that encourage walking, biking, and transit; and deliberate steps to avoid displacing current residents, especially in historically marginalized communities of color.
How Greenville residents can help
To further our work, we need more local conservation funding to match state and federal funding sources. Local funding sources, such as the Greenville County Historic Natural Resources Trust and the Upstate Land Conservation Fund, and state funding sources like the South Carolina Conservation Bank, are dedicated to supporting local conservation projects, but the local match piece is critical.
Our programs also rely overwhelmingly on donations from residents, and you may donate directly to UF.
If you are interested in joining the efforts in the City or County, Upstate Forever has several upcoming opportunities.
Land Planning and Policy will host our popular Citizens Planning Academy this fall, which is an interactive course designed to help Greenville residents, business owners, and neighborhood leaders understand processes that drive local planning and land use policy.
If you’d like to stay informed about general updates, news, or action alerts, then please join our email lists or visit our website upstateforever.org. We have other events coming up, including our ForeverGreen Annual Awards Luncheon on June 13th, and a variety of volunteer opportunities and site visits.
You can also find us on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn, and Twitter.