If you look across Ducks Unlimited’s thousands of conservation projects, you will find some common elements. You will find visionary leaders who aspired to maintain healthy landscapes for wildlife and people. You will find generous individuals who fueled the effort with a combination of their land, financial resources, and time. You will find dedicated partners that excel at restoring and protecting habitat efficiently and effectively. And you will find advocates who can tell the conservation story in a compelling way that inspires others to join the cause. The late Lucille “Lulu” Vanderbilt Pate was one such advocate in the South Carolina Lowcountry.
Lulu came from a long line of conservation-minded forebearers. In the 1950s, George W. Vanderbilt designated the wetland known as Middleton Pond as a refuge on the family’s Arcadia Plantation property in Georgetown, South Carolina. This gave birds an undisturbed place to eat and rest and contributed greatly to the abundance and diversity of waterfowl in the region. This tradition continues today, and Lulu’s family has also maintained a practice of regular prescribed burns of the mature longleaf pine forests on the property despite increasing complications from encroaching development. As a result, Arcadia has some of the oldest and healthiest longleaf pine stands in the area.
When she inherited the plantation from her father, George W. Vanderbilt III, Lulu viewed her role as that of a caretaker for the next generation. She worked to balance the need for operating revenue with the conservation of the many unique natural features of the property.
Lulu and her family have donated conservation easements on nearly 4,000 acres of Arcadia, including the portion of the property that runs for five miles along both sides of the Waccamaw River. The combined value of these easements is $60 million, the most valuable easements ever donated to Ducks Unlimited and Wetlands America Trust (WAT). In weighing commercial development options for the property against preservation through an easement, Lulu’s son Matt Balding said, “Some things are just more valuable than money.”
In April, DU, WAT, and friends and family gathered to honor Lulu’s vision, leadership, and generosity by dedicating Fairfield Pond in her honor. One of the important wetland areas on the plantation, the pond was also one of Lulu’s favorite spots. She loved to visit and photograph its robust egret and heron rookery. It is also the site of a rice mill that represents the rich cultural history of the property. Understanding and honoring that history was also a passion for Lulu. Although her warm smile and dedicated spirit will be sorely missed, her commitment to the land, her family, and her community will inspire many generations to come. DU and WAT are honored to have played a small role in helping Lulu’s vision become reality.