South Carolina organizations recognized by U.S. cabinet-level agency

The S.C. National Heritage Corridor and SC7 honored by the U.S. Department of the Interior

By W. Thomas Smith Jr.

The S.C. National Heritage Corridor has been awarded the RALPH REGULA ENVIRONMENTAL ACHIEVEMENT AWARD by the United States Department of the Interior for its efforts with SOUTH CAROLINA 7 (SC7), a monthlong annual statewide expedition from the mountains of the South Carolina Upstate to the Lowcountry coastline.

“This is a tremendous honor for all of us,” says Dr. Tom Mullikin, founding director of SC7, now entering its fourth year. “The U.S. Department of the Interior is recognizing what both the S.C. National Heritage Corridor and Global Eco Adventures have accomplished jointly thus far through our July expeditions and which is ensuring an even brighter future for our fellow South Carolinians and our state’s precious natural resources.”

According to the Interior Department citation: The S.C. National Heritage corridor is receiving the Ralph Regula Environmental Achievement Award for “promoting an appreciation of the outdoors, stewardship of resources, and active protection of the planet through its efforts with SC7 in collaboration with its partner Global Eco Adventures. This award recognizes those that champion America’s special places to ensure the legacy of these natural and cultural resource treasures through collaborative stewardship and partner-based resource conservation efforts.”

Physically led by Mullikin and his team of handpicked adventurers (scientists, military leaders, even state legislators) every July beginning July 1, the SC7 Expedition involves a growing number of volunteers and outdoor enthusiasts, young and not-so-young – hiking, climbing, kayaking, rafting, and SCUBA diving – across South Carolina as they explore the Palmetto State’s seven named wonders and various on-trail and off-trail excursions in between.

The seven designated wonders of the Palmetto State include Sassafras Mountain; the Jocassee Gorges; the Chattooga River; the Congaree National Forest; the Edisto River; the Ashepoo, Combahee, and Edisto Basin (universally referred to as the ACE Basin); and Bull Island-Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge: “Each one a unique geographical treasure,” says Mullikin.

The S.C. National Heritage Corridor’s receipt of the Ralph Regula Environmental Achievement Award is not the first time SC7 has been recognized at the federal level, nor does it mark the first time SC7 has worked in collaboration with federal agencies. Last year, U.S. Congressman Ralph Norman recognized and commended Mullikin and the SC7 Expedition on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, D.C. And since its conception in 2019 and its first manned-expedition in 2020, SC7 has worked closely with the direct support of the U.S. National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The S.C. National Heritage Corridor is itself a congressionally designated “National Heritage Area” of the National Park Service.

“This is shared success,” says SC7’s chief logistics officer Michelle McCollum, who also serves as president of the S.C. National Heritage Corridor. “It’s been very uplifting to work side-by-side with amazing conservation organizations in our state. The way I see it is the great outdoors is a great big place with great big needs. Only together can we effectively meet those needs.”

Each July, the SC7 Expedition begins in the South Carolina Upstate, specifically Oconee Passage, before winding its way south-southeast toward Columbia and the Midlands, generally paralleling the famed Palmetto Trail. As in previous years, SC7 2022 concluded in Charleston with a grand event aboard USS Yorktown attended by Lt. Governor Pamela Evette, other VIPs, and deck-landing parachutists prior to kicking off a smart-reef installation operation off the coast involving an SC7-organized and led team of retired Navy SEALs, former Marine Recon operators (primarily members of FORCE BLUE) and S.C. State Guard divers supported by all manner of boats and a helicopter.

“We do much more than explore: We work,” says Mullikin, himself a former U.S. Army officer, retired two-star commanding general of the S.C. State Guard, and today chairman of the gubernatorially established S.C. Floodwater Commission. “Whether cleaning and clearing ditches along highways, picking up trash on our beaches, or installing high-tech artificial reef systems on the ocean floor, we are bettering the world we live in. And that has always been one of the primary aims of SC7.”

At the end of July 2023, SC7 will conclude on Hilton Head Island. “We will also collaborate with and highlight some of the amazing resiliency initiatives already completed by the Marines on nearby Parris Island, home of the famous Marine Corps Recruit Depot,” says Mullikin.

– For more information about SC7 2023, please visit