Nelson Byrd Woltz reveals its design plan for South Carolina's Angel Oak Preserve

Growing Preserve

Nelson Byrd Woltz reveals its design plan for South Carolina's Angel Oak Preserve

The preserve is a popular tourist destination outside of Charleston, South Carolina. (Courtesy Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects)

Having been tapped by the Lowcountry Land Trust last year, Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects (NBW) has completed designs for their comprehensive master plan for Charleston, South Carolina‘s Angel Oak Preserve.

The Angel Oak is a beloved southern Live Oak tree situated within the Angel Oak Park on John’s Island, one of the Sea Islands outside of Charleston. The tree is a popular tourist location and historical site, largely due to its claims a the oldest living thing east of the Mississippi River, with estimates of its age ranging from 400 to 1,500 years old. The tree is also praised as a marvel of nature, with it’s canopy covering about 17,000 square feet around its 25.5 foot circumference trunk, and supporting an ecosystem of vibrant resurrection ferns that grow on its limbs along with many other plant and animal species.

The tree was initially protected in a grassroots effort that eventually garnered the financial support of the South Carolina State Conservation Bank and Charleston County Greenbelt, along with over 12,000 individuals, allowing the Lowcountry Land Trust to preserve it. After then purchasing the land surrounding the tree over 10 years ago, the small historical park containing the Angel Oak will finally grow to be a full preserve.

The Lowcountry Land Trust that protected the Angel Oak is now responsible for the planning of the full preserve as well. Since its founding in 1986, the trust has been dedicated to permanently protecting and nurturing land throughout coastal South Carolina. Working alongside its partners of landowners and community organizations, the trust holds protects over 150,000 acres of preserved natural resources across 17 counties.

The preserve will expand to 44 acres. (Courtesy Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects)

For the planning of the preserve, the trust brought in NBW, a landscape architecture firm who focus on design that works alongside existing ecological and cultural systems, so that the natural order present on a site may continue to thrive despite their intervention. The firm aims to work alongside clients and stakeholders to provide design solutions within ecologically and agriculturally productive landscapes, as they have done in previous projects such as Houston’s Land Bridge and Prairie, Nashville’s Centennial Park, and many others.

“We are humbled by the opportunity to be a thought partner in protecting the powerful energy of this place. And we are excited by the opportunity to bring our tools of design to reveal the stories of the communities that support the Angel Oak,” said Thomas Woltz, Principal and Owner of NBW, in a press release.

While the masterplan design has completed, construction will not begin until 2025. (Courtesy Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects)

The preserve will consist of a 44 acre property surrounding the city’s two acre Angel Oak Park, which holds the iconic live oak. The plan includes accessible boardwalk trails that will protect the ancient tree’s roots, improved circulation and parking, along with signage to celebrate the history and significance of the land and tree. The preserve will also support educational programming about the ecological significance of maritime forests and live oaks focused around the Angel Oak and the Sea Islands.

The Angel Oak Preserve is expected to break ground in 2025, with the project’s total cost is expected to be $6 million, $3 million of which has been found in foundational funding secured by South Carolina Representative Leon Stavrinakis, while fundraising efforts are underway for the remainder.