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In April of 1980, Bob Gale, Todd Ballantine, Ed Drane, Jenny Hagan, Kelly and Mary Hoffman organized the Nancy Cathcart Group of the Sierra Club. They named the group after Nancy Cathcart, a famed island naturalist, writer, photographer and ecological activist. Cathcart died from cancer at the age of 39 on September 8, 1980. On her last nature walk she said, “We fight for life. It's been my fight for 20 years, maybe now it's the Sierra Club's.”

Many of the founding members were active environmentalists. In 1982, Ballantine was given the South Carolina Conservationist of the Year Award for developing plans for a natural infiltration project in the Sea Pines Forest Preserve on Hilton Head Island. This system is now used in Whooping Crane Pond, Sun City and other areas of the state.

In 1985, the Hilton Head Island Community Association honored Gale and Drane. Drane directed the Hilton Head Sea Turtle Protection Project. Drane, Gale and Ballantine were all given many local and national Sierra Club awards. The Cathcart Group owes a debt of gratitude to these pioneers who set high standards for our group.

The Cathcart Group covers Beaufort, Jasper, Hampton, and, recently, Allendale counties. The group has always played an active role in local environmental issues.

When the South Carolina Coastal Council circulated a Special Area Management Plan for the coastal areas, the group recognized that this plan was a great step forward. We supported it, called all our members to ask for support and generated hundreds of letters in support of the plan, which was adopted.

When the Water Resources Commission proposed to upgrade the Colleton River and many other creeks and rivers in Bluffton to "Outstanding Water Resource" status, which gave it more protection, the Cathcart Group also voiced their support. We published the upgrade proposal in our newsletter; contacted members for support and the rivers were upgraded.

In 1994, the State Treasurer, Richard Eckstrom, recognized the Sierra Club with a certificate for helping in the Adopt-A-Highway Program, which saved South Carolina taxpayers $2,000,000 a year.

In 1995, the Sierra Club supported the Beaufort Environmental Comprehensive Land Planning for the County by designating greenways, park sites and buffers for wildlife, water quality and recreation.

“In the very beginning we were very active in conservation because we were practically the only group pointing out areas for future open space, controlling growth and sprawl. We are still fighting this battle,” said Lynn Corliss Burnham.

In 2002 the Cathcart Chapter took a hiatus. The leaders retired and no one came forward to take their places. The break lasted until Allyn Schneider moved to the area in December of 2003.

Schneider had been involved in the Sierra Club in Irvine, California, where he became an outings leader. When he moved to Moss Creek in Bluffton, he started asking about a local Sierra Club chapter and learned that the group had recently died out.

With the help of Dell Isham, Schneider was able to contact all the area members and organize a meeting in March of 2004. The group continued to meet monthly after that, with a guest speaker scheduled for each meeting. However, they discontinued summer meetings because of a lack of summer attendance. And in the spring of 2006, they reduced their meetings to quarterly with varying locations in an effort to boost attendance.

Throughout the years, the group has been involved in many clean-up activities, including the Adopt-a-Highway program, Beach Sweeps on Hilton Head Island and quarterly clean ups at the Pinckney National Wildlife Refuge. We have participated in Earth Day events, Bluffton's May Festival, the Bluffton Oyster Festival and other community events to raise awareness about both state wide and national issues.

We held diverse program meetings to educate members and non-members on local issues and political forums. We learned about the Savannah River Plant and learned about water conservation, wildlife and photography of wildlife. We had programs on Gray's Reef, whales, turtles, eagles, birding habitats, snakes, the rain forest, tree preservation and fossil collecting. We learned about cross-country skiing, biking, safe canoeing and kayaking procedures.

Our Holiday Party Potluck in December is a favorite social event. We hiked areas on Hilton Head and throughout neighboring states, as well as the mountains. We sailed the waters surrounding Hilton Head; toured the ACE Basin; camped on St. Catherine's Island in Georgia for Endangered Species; and camped, hiked and biked on Cumberland Island, Georgia. We visited almost every island from Edisto Island, South Carolina to Merritt Island, Florida. We enjoyed many Sierra Fests throughout the state. And we made lifelong friends.

"The Sierra Club is a group you turn to when you want to find people that enjoy the outdoors. It is a group that shares hikes, boat trips, retreats and meetings to raise awareness. I think best of all it reflects individuals that want to live in a society that supports a clean environment so we can enjoy wild places for generations to come. The Sierra Club spends millions of dollars to make sure our legislators hear what we have to say, and that means a great deal to me,” said Todd Ballantine.

The Sierra Club’s mission is to experience nature through outings, educate through meaningful programs and change environmental policy through activism. As of 2006, our group has over 400 members in the four county areas. At the state level, the Sierra Club has 9 groups and about 5,000 members. The club has over 700,000 members nationwide.

Involvement is another issue that the Cathcart Chapter struggles with. The group is always looking for people who want to get involved. If you’re interested in meeting like-minded people, enjoying the outdoors and becoming an active member of our group, please call 785-4311.

Bob Gale, Todd Ballantine, Debbie MacLellan Williston, Jordan Kaufman, Barbara Marhoffer, Richard Clapp, Lynn Corliss Burnham and Eleanor Lehmann contributed to this history.


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