Did you know…¬†that Spartanburg County is the birthplace of soil conservation in the state of South Carolina? In 1933, under the U.S. Department of the Interior, the Soil Erosion Service was established. With a five million dollar budget, the Soil Erosion Service set up demonstration sites in strategic locations throughout the United States. One of these sites covered the South Tyger River Watershed, located in Greenville and Spartanburg counties. The first project within this demonstration area began on December 18, 1933, at the J.L. Berry farm, located near Poplar Springs in Spartanburg County.

Due to uncontrolled water from field terraces, soil had eroded away from an area on the Berry farm that created an 800-foot-long and 35-foot-deep gully in only eight years. Acres of productive cropland were destroyed and bottomland stream channels were choked from sedimentation.

Berry Gully Before
Berry Gully After

Workers Equipped only with hand tools (shovels and axes) and limited technical knowledge, 75 relief workers brought the problem under control by diverting the water away from the gully, sloping and planting the banks of the gully with grass, trees, and shrubs, and building log dams across the main channel. The project was a success and the methods used at the Berry Gully project were used throughout in 1935, Public Law 46 was passed by the U.S. Congress. This law established soil and water conservation and wise land use as a national policy.  It also created the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a federal agency housed within the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In 1937, President Franklin Roosevelt wrote all Governors, recommending that each state adopt legislation forming conservation districts, and a state agency to provide coordination and guidance to these districts. This state agency would also provide professional, technical, and financial assistance to the districts. Governor Olin D. Johnston signed the S.C. Conservation Districts Law on April 17, 1937.

These legal agreements establish the working partnership between the United States Secretary of Agriculture, the State of South Carolina, the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, and each conservation district in South Carolina.