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Edmund man shares area’s almost lost history as he fights state agency for his family’s land

Edmund, SC – 04/22/2021 (Paul Kirby) – To some people the words heritage, family, and history are just words. To men like Gary Shumpert, a retiree from SCE&G that lives on land that’s been in his family for over 100 years, these aren’t just words, they’re things that make him who he is.

Shumpert has lived off Redmond Road near Edmund on land he inherited from his family his entire life. To smell the smells of the surrounding forest, hear the birds chirping, and see his cultivated blueberries grow until they’re ripe for harvest is more than just ordinary sounds, smells, or sights, they are a part of his DNA.

Often, for men like Gary Shumpert, money isn’t everything. He’s older now and lives on the land that will one day pass on to his children. He’s got everything he needs, and just about everything he wants. The memories of his childhood, the dirt he now farms, the pond he can see from his porch are all way up on his list of prized possessions. Honestly, except for God and his living family, there’s little as important to Gary Shumpert as his land and its history.

Shumpert, now in his 70s, has so much history of that land and the surrounding area stored in his mind that it would make a good book. Born in 1950, he remembers walks with his siblings, fishing in the nearby creeks and ponds, an old wooden bridge, and a grits mill that few even know existed. Truly, the man’s memories need to be recorded so that when he passes, those are not all lost to eternity.

“I remember an old wooden bridge that crossed that creek on Boiling Springs Road,” Shumpert reminisced. “I guess I’m probably the only one left alive that walked across that bridge before the state came in and put a culvert in a little further down the road.” Shumpert says when he was very young, he remembers his older siblings taking him for a walk and making him cross the creek on that old bridge. “I remember being scared because you could see the water running under your feet through the cracks in the bridge’s floorboards. When you’re just three or four years old, that was a scary thing.”

The bridge that Shumpert is referring to has been gone since the mid-1950s. It crossed the creek that still runs today from Crystal Springs Lake into what’s now known as Shealy Pond and then on toward South Lake Drive (SC Hwy 6). Boiling Springs Road runs across the culvert the creek flows through and if you’re not paying attention, you could drive right by and miss it entirely.

That culvert is but one piece of a puzzle that Shumpert says has forced him to fight the SC Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) for some of his land in his golden years. That pipe is a spillway of sorts for Shealy’s Pond, the key feature in the Shealy’s Pond Heritage Preserve that’s now held and managed by the SCDNR.

Shumpert says that after the old wooden bridge was removed around 1954, the state installed a concrete culvert, a pipe. When they did that, they moved the creek’s flow about 30 yards closer to Edmund Hwy. and SC Hwy. 6. It changed the creeks flow to a new point and forced Shealy’s Pond to back up a little farther on his family’s land. The additional water wasn't a problem. Moving the centerline of the creek was to Shumpert.

The reason that’s so important to him is simple. Gary Shumpert has plats of his land that show his property line as the center of the creek that makes up Shealy’s Pond. When the state changed the creek’s flow, it moved the centerline changing the property boundary closer to Shumpert’s home and land. To him, this is as if someone pulled up their neighbor’s boundary markers and moved them in just a little. Then the neighbor could claim more acreage and your land’s footprint would have mysteriously shrunk by the same amount your neighbor gained! The only thing is, that’s just not right and might be considered illegal if it were just a citizen fighting a citizen. In this case, it’s Gary Shumpert versus the State of South Carolina. “Not only are they saying that the property line is the high-water mark of the pond, but they also moved the centerline by changing the flow of the creek years ago,” Shumpert said. “I feel like I’m David fighting Goliath,” Shumpert said as he stared across the water of the pond. “Remember, if they can do this to me, they can do it to you.”

DNR came to own the property that includes Shealy’s pond and the creek through various purchases that put the land in trust just like Peachtree Rock further south. This trust protects the land from being developed and maintains it in its natural state, supposedly. This is important because some of the rarest blueberries in the world grow right there at Shealy’s Pond.

If you look at the many surveys and plats Shumpert has had done over the years, they all say that his property line is the center of the creek. At a specific spot in the pond, a post, the line cuts back towards Shumpert’s home. According to Shumpert’s paperwork, drawings, and the testimony of his forefathers through witnessed statements he has, the state’s property is on the other side of the centerline and that post.

DNR’s says its property line is high-water mark of the pond, a difference of approximately three acres Shumpert says. DNR says they’ve had their own surveys done, their own paperwork, and have since hired some outside lawyers to fight Shumpert’s claims to the land. "They've actually put signs on my land saying that only employees of the Department of Natural Resources could come on it. That doesn't include me," Shumpert said empathically.

The three acres the State now claims Shumpert continues to say belongs to him. That’s three acres that he says the state just took with no compensation. “We had a Zoom meeting with their lawyers,” Shumpert said recently. “It was the first time I met them, and they started by saying, we’re not here to take anyone’s land. They weren’t trying to take anymore," Shumpert agreed. "They've already taken it is what they should have said!”

The lands not good for much. Some of it is swamp, the rest sand, scrub oaks, brush, and pines. Shumpert says that similar parcels around him have sold for about $5,000 per acre but to him, its not about the money. “It’s the principal of the thing,” Shumpert said recently while he walked along one boundary. “My grandfather bought and worked this land way more than 100 years ago and I feel like if someone were to try and just take three acres from him, he would have fought over that. I think that he’d expect me to fight now for the same land now to keep those few acres Shumpert land.”

As Shumpert drifts off in the memories of his childhood, he talks about a man who visited his grandfather in 1919. That man had a plan to develop a business that would benefit the entire area. Today, his idea would be called economic development.

The man’s name was Rish. He owned land on one side of the creek through his marriage to Mrs. Shealy, at the time a widow. Shumpert’s grandfather, a Sharpe, owned the opposite bank. Rish wanted to damn up the creek on his and the Sharpe’s land to form a pond. Then, he’d build a modern roller mill to grind grains like corn and the flow of the creek’s water would power it. The area’s farmers would have a nearby mill to grind grits and cornmeal they could sell and there’d be a pond on what's now Shumpert’s land where just a creek was before. This was agreed upon by David Ellis Sharpe, Gary’s grandfather, and a deal was struck. That mill was built and until it caught fire and burned some years later, it ground away benefitting all the farmers in the area.

Shumpert recently stood alongside Boiling Springs Road and pointed to a post in the water. “That’s where the grits mill was,” he said. “I bet there aren’t many people that know that was here. It’s a part of the area’s history and heritage.” When Shumpert passes, a lot of history will go with him.

As Shumpert walks and looks at the Shealy’s Pond side of the road, he thinks about the State’s duty to keep the area natural and preserve it for future generations. “Thinking that the DNR is a good steward of this land makes me a little sad,” Shumpert said. “For weeks, a sofa sat along the bank of the pond beside the road. The man that lives in a house across the way called and called until weeks later, someone came and got it. That’s not preservation or any trust that I want anything to do with.”

As Shumpert spoke, a thick swarm of black flies buzzed all around. The cause that drew the flies was only a few feet away. Closer to the pond’s edge a white plastic bucket sat. In it was the bones and guts of a catfish someone had caught out of Shealy’s Pond and gutted that morning. Then, instead of taking the innards and their bucket with them, they just left them by the pond. “This is always a mess and in all the years I have been here, I’ve seen just a few game wardens policing this pond.” A trip back more than a week later to take a picture proved his point. You couldn’t see the bucket from the road, but it was still there. It had been knocked over and was just a little closer to Shealy’s Pond’s water further away from the road.

Within a few more feet were the skin and antlers of a young buck deer thrown right at the base of some beautiful blooming blackberry vines. “This is what it always looks like down here. People skin a deer and just throw what’s left by the pond. That don’t sound like anyone cares much about heritage to me. If the state wanted it to be natural, they’d police it and try and stop the public from making this mess.” Shumpert said that the only time DNR cleans up around the pond and their property is when he’s putting pressure on them or their ready to give him bad news. “If I see they’ve cleaned up I know to expect a registered letter, and email, or a visit from the state about taking my property soon,” he concluded.

For now, Shumpert will continue to fight for what he considers his land. “It’s not about money,” he said again, “it’s the principal of the thing.” He hopes that members of the public will support his efforts to fight the State. A prayer each day, a phone call of support, speaking with him in the store, all these things give him strength to keep fighting.

He'd also like more people to call their legislators and ask them to get involved. Representative Ryan McCabe has already helped him a great deal but he's just one of many at the State House. “Yes sir,” he said as our visit came to an end. “If they can do this to me, they can do it to you in a heartbeat.”

PHTO CAPTION: Gary Shumpert standing by the water of Shealy's Pond.


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