Hitchcock Woods Foundation protects, maintains Aiken’s urban forest

March 31, 2019

In the midst of Aiken there is an oasis known as Hitchcock Woods, which is one of the nation’s largest urban forests.

Instead of date palms, it is filled with longleaf pines. Bluebirds, fox squirrels and other wild animals thrive in the peaceful environment, which the public is able to enjoy for free.

The Hitchcock Woods Foundation serves as the refuge’s guardian and also is its owner.

“In simple terms, the mission of the foundation is to maintain the more than 2,000 acres of Hitchcock Woods in a most natural and healthy state,” said Larry Byers, who is the nonprofit’s treasurer.

The foundation, he added, also promotes “the equine sports that are traditional that take place in the woods” and educates people “about what it takes to maintain a healthy longleaf forest.”

Besides Byers, other members of the organization’s board of trustees include Chairwoman Patricia Corey, Vice Chairman Tim Simmons and Secretary Courtney Conger.

“The trustees that we have are all dedicated to ensuring that we come up with enough funds to carry out the foundation’s responsibilities,” Byers said. “We have a range of backgrounds and a wealth of talent in many different areas – from the nitty-gritty of maintaining a forest to those who are capable fundraisers, have legal backgrounds or are capable managers of large businesses.”

Among the many accomplishments under the foundation’s watch are the creation of a forest management plan, the completion of an archeological survey and the reintroduction of federally endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers.

“To have brought the woodpeckers back after they were gone for so many years is, I think, an example of how the trustees have fulfilled their responsibility to maintain a healthy ecological balance,” said Byers, who is a joint master of foxhounds for the Aiken Hounds.

The biggest fundraiser for the foundation is the Aiken Horse Show, which is held in Hitchcock Woods. The 103rd edition of the event ends its three-day run today (Sunday, March 31).

“I have a pictured that a friend of mine gave me that was taken in the 1930s at the show,” Byers said. “It looks exactly as it does today, with the exception that there was no big, white tent. The vintage of the cars parked around the show ring also was different.”

There is no admission charge for show attendees, but there is a $10 parking fee for those who drive vehicles to the event.

“There are sponsors, activities in the tent and entry fees,” said Byers, who has ridden in the show in the past. “All of the profits go to the Hitchcock Woods Foundation and are a major funding source for the operations in the woods throughout the year.”

For more information about the foundation, which was called the Hitchcock Foundation when it was founded in the late 1930s, visit hitchcockwoods.org.