The unadorned pastoral stretch of median strips that divide the east- and westbound lanes of U.S. 278 will be boring no more.
From the I-95 interchange to the Hilton Head Island gateway, the county’s plan is for gated communities and businesses to take on the responsibility of maintaining landscaped swaths previously maintained only by mowers and litter crews.
The medians flanking the entryway to Belfair Plantation are the first planted, serving as the demonstration project. Although they have always maintained those median strips, said Rick Leitman, the private community’s chief financial officer, the new landscaping was the result of rebuilding a golf course.
“Belfair had taken down some trees as part of a project internally, and our responsibility for doing so was to do something for the county,” said Leitman. “We waited until the highway construction was done before beginning the landscaping.”
The gated community’s payment went to the Tree Reforestation Fund, an account established when the town received the designation as a Tree City USA in 2011. Private communities and businesses compensate the town for removing trees during development. Those funds pay for maintaining and increasing the town’s public tree canopy where possible.
Enhancing the median strips has been a topic of discussion for the past eight years between the Southern Beaufort County Corridor Beautification Board and the Bluffton Beautification Committee.
“Beautifying the medians with native landscaping will benefit us all. If the median has a wow affect, people will think it is really a neat place on arrival and departure,” said Nick Duffy, Bluffton Beautification Committee member.
Joe Bryant, director of landscaping at Belfair, listed crape myrtles, loropetalum, juniper for the border areas, muhly grass, saw palms, daylilies and Bermuda seed areas along roadside edge as the landscaped plants, and noted that everything planted other than the juniper will provide a variety of color throughout the year.
The initial objective is to beautify medians from the S.C. 170 overpass to Moss Creek. Belfair’s plantings were finished by the end of April and followed designs presented by J.K. Tiller Associates, Inc., Bluffton landscape architects and professional consultants who worked with Charles Fraser on Hilton Head’s landscape designs.
Josh Tiller created a master plan that covers 10 miles of U.S. 278, divided into one-mile segments. The county’s Natural Resources Committee recommended the plan to county council, which it unanimously adopted in April.
The second segment landscaped will be the responsibility of the Tanger Outlet management company and covers a 1.1-mile stretch. That project should be completed by the end of this year and, like Belfair, will include indigenous plants that will be irrigated for one year by on-site methods to ensure the plants are firmly established.
The next project after Tanger Outlets may be Rose Hill Plantation, which has expressed an interest in taking on their median area, although there is no commitment yet, said Joy Nelson, Beaufort County public affairs director.
“There are few median areas that are not covered by gated communities and major business areas, but the major median area that is not in front of a subdivision is the area in front of Target,” she added. “There are various funding avenues the beautification board is looking at right now, but county council must ultimately approve where the money will come from.”
Although future funding is currently not a line item in any area government budgets, donations, business support and grants offered through state and federal programs are possible sources as the medians develop.
Future community development along the U.S. 278 corridor will include median landscaping provisions as part of their agreements.
Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.