Conservation grant bridges gaps at Harbison State Forest

Thanks to a grant from the Richland County Conservation Commission (RCCC), volunteers with a local organization recently finished replacing four aging bridges along Harbison State Forest’s extensive trail system.

The RCCC provides Natural Resource Grants of up to $20,000 for neighborhood groups, organizations and agencies to protect natural resources, improve water quality, and enhance active living through trails.

“This kind of grant project is ideal, as it involves volunteers and Eagle Scouts and improves access to this treasured community green space,” said John McKenzie, program analyst for the County’s Conservation Division.

One of four repaired bridges in Harbison State Forest is shown following work completed by the Friends of Harbison State Forest and Eagle Scouts. A Richland County Conservation Commission grant helped fund the repairs.

Leading up to the project, in 2020, volunteers with the Friends of Harbison State Forest analyzed all 41 bridges in the 2,137-acre forest, numbering, mapping and noting the condition of each. From that list, the volunteers prioritized those in the worst condition. With help from a $6,000 Natural Resource Grant, the Friends bought materials to repair four of the bridges and brought on four members of Scouts BSA, who then assembled teams of volunteers to help with the work.

In all, 88 volunteers helped complete the project, combining for more than 800 hours of service. The repairs also served as Eagle Scout projects for the four Scouts.

“A lot of people take Harbison State Forest for granted and don’t realize that, of the five forests in the state system, only Harbison has an organization like the Friends that is devoted to the maintenance and improvement of the quality recreation opportunities there,” McKenzie said.

The RCCC offers a similar program, the Historic Preservation Grant, which provides up to $50,000 for landowners to preserve, restore or rehabilitate historically significant buildings or sites and develop education and research programs that promote historic preservation.

Applications for both grants open December 1. The deadline to apply is February 1. If approved, funds become available in July. To access RCCC grant applications, including those for historic preservation and educational projects, apply online via ZoomGrants:

What Projects are Eligible?
Solutions such as low-impact development or green infrastructure activities are eligible for grants, as are educational programs that promote conservation and environmental awareness in Richland County. Grants require a 20 percent in-kind and cash match, and projects must demonstrate a clear public benefit.

“It is not an exaggeration to say that Harbison State Forest wouldn’t be anything like the recreational gem it is today without the support we’ve received over the years from the RCCC. We are so very grateful,” said John O’Neill, president of the board of directors for Friends of Harbison State Forest.

To see whether your organization or project is eligible for Natural Resource or Historic Preservation Grants, see the FY23-24 Natural Resource Grants criteria and guidelines or FY23-24 Historic Preservation Grant criteria and guidelines.

Feature photo: Volunteers recently completed repairs to bridges in Harbison State Forest, with work funded by a Richland County Conservation Commission grant. One of the aging bridges is shown prior to being repaired.