We were reminded of this truth by a photo of an Earth Day project at Foster Park Elementary School and a story on the butterfly project at Jonesville Elementary/Middle K-8 School. In the Foster Park project, third-grade students engaged in an activity called “We Have the Future in Our Hands” which focused on how everyone can do their part to help save the environment. In the Jonesville Elementary/Middle project, three second-grade science classes observed the life cycle that transforms caterpillars into butterflies.
Underlying the projects are two intertwined truths: The need for humans to understand the natural world of which they are a part and the responsibility of each and everyone human to preserve and protect the environment upon which our very survival depends. Recognizing and acting on these two great truths, both as individuals and as a community, will be the key to ensuring the future of Union County.
Approximately 40 percent of Union County is part of the Sumter National Forest. Of the remaining 60 percent, much is rural with significant urban development largely limited to the municipalities of Union, Jonesville and Lockhart and unincorporated communities like Buffalo and Monarch. Carlisle is located in the Sumter National Forest.
Once you get outside these areas and off main transportation arteries such as US 176 and SC 49, you can drive for some distance with nothing but trees on either side of the road. This is true even of some sections of 176 and 49 where, except for a passing car, the only signs of human activity are the road itself, road signs and, sadly, litter.
Some bemoan the predominantly rural character as a sign of its underdevelopment. An especially sore point is the 40 percent of the county in the Sumter National Forest which is viewed by some as an impediment to economic development.
They are correct that Union County is underdeveloped, especially in comparison to other areas of the Upstate like Spartanburg and Greenville. This county needs more economic development, it needs to atrract new industries, businesses and new residents and it needs to provide them with the things that will bring them here and keep them here.
That being said, it should be pointed out we can, should and must do this without sacrificing the natural beauty of this county and the ecosystems that support it. One of the greatest draws of living, working and doing business in a county like ours is it’s environment. Forests substantial enough to support a wide variety of plant and animal life; rivers and streams flowing unimpeded and full of fish; clean air filled with the songs of birds; and roadsides free from litter, dilapidated buildings, junk vehicles and unregulated sprawl are and/or should be assets for environmentally-friendly economic development.
We need economic development, but as the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico demonstrates, we cannot engage in such development at the expense of nature. When human beings in the pursuit of their own material comfort carelessly damage the natural world they are setting themselves up for an especially nasty fall. That’s because humanity does not live in a vaccuum, sealed off from nature. We are a part of nature and we must start acting accordingly or our suffering will be catastrophic.
Future economic development, both here and throughout the rest of the world, must take into account its impact on nature. That’s where projects like those at Foster Park Elementary and Jonesville Elementary/Middle can have their greatest impact. In teaching our children and grandchildren to understand the natural world, their place in it and their responsibility for its preservation such projects are helping to lay the foundation for a green, sustainable and healthy future for both Union County and the rest of the world.
In Union County, making that transition to a green future does not mean swearing off economic development and new industry, far from it. We want more companies like LSP, Timken, Sonoco and Dollar General to set up shop here. What it does mean, however, is economic development and environmental protection should go hand in hand. A clean, healthy and pleasant environment not only attracts investment, it can help protect it.
This also means seeing the woodlands — including Sumter National Forest — that make up so much of this county as as green economic resource and not as an impediment to economic development. Of course, this is nothing that countless numbers of hunters, fishermen, hikers, campers, canoeists, kayakers and nature lovers in general don’t already know. Ecotourism — and other environmetally-friendly policies — should be a major part of out future economic development efforts.
Union County’s future will, before too many more years, be in the hands of our children and grandchildren. For now, however, it is in our hands and we should strive to make this the kind of community that understands humans are part of the natural world and have a special responsibility to preserve and protect it.
By doing so, we will demonstrate that, when the future was in our hands, we were good stewards who left our children and grandchildren an environmental legacy that we can be proud of and can make them proud of us.