Clemson celebrates 50 years of research at Baruch Institute
By Steven Bradley
Special to The Journal
GEORGETOWN — Any anniversary shindig worth its salt will include some reminiscing, and that was in no short supply at a place with saltwater in its soul.
Reflecting on a half-century of what director Skip Van Bloem called “a Tiger spirit … with some Hobcaw seasoning,” Clemson University’s Belle W. Baruch Institute of Coastal Ecology and Forest Science celebrated its 50th anniversary last week at its headquarters.
But Thursday’s milestone event was just as much about moving forward and the belief that, at the Baruch Institute, as Clemson president Jim Clements put it, “The best is yet to come.”
Located on Hobcaw Barony, Clemson’s Baruch lab was established in 1968 to take full advantage of research opportunities for faculty and students in an ecological reserve of forests, high-salinity marsh estuaries, and brackish and freshwater marshes.
Clements told the audience of faculty and staff, trustees, current and former students, partners, media and members of the public that the institute was an “incredible example of how an act of visionary philanthropy long ago has led to partnerships and collaborations that have literally changed people’s lives in a very positive way and improved the quality of life in our state for many generations.”
That impact on the state epitomizes Clemson’s mission, as South Carolina’s primary land-grant institution, of teaching, research and outreach, Clements said.
“That is also very much the story of Thomas Green Clemson and Clemson University, which is why we are proud that, through the Baruch Institute, Clemson is a part of Hobcaw — and Hobcaw is a part of Clemson,” he said.
Hobcaw Barony is a 16,000-acre tract of undeveloped land along the Waccamaw Neck that Wall Street financer and advisor to presidents Bernard Baruch purchased in 1905 to be used as a winter hunting retreat and sold to his daughter, Belle, 50 years later.
Upon her death in 1964, Belle created the private, nonprofit Baruch Foundation to manage and conserve the property for future generations and invited South Carolina’s colleges and universities to use the land as an outdoor laboratory.
The Belle W. Baruch Professorship of Forestry was established at Clemson in 1965, and the Baruch lab was established three years later to take better advantage of the facilities at Hobcaw.
“I think Miss Baruch would be very pleased with what we have been able to accomplish in the 50 years since then,” Clements said.
Today, Baruch research covers an array of areas that impact South Carolina’s natural resources and the related sectors of its economy, including forest management and water quality, the economic value of eco-system services, the impact of environmental toxins on humans and wildlife, and how forests respond to extreme weather events and climate change. The University of South Carolina also established a marine lab at the institute in 1969.
The institute is one of only two university field stations with year-round resident faculty dedicated to forestry and, with the establishment in 2014 of the James C. Kennedy Waterfowl and Wetlands Conservation Center, is the headquarters of the first endowed waterfowl conservation center along the 3,000-mile Atlantic flyway stretching from the Canadian Maritimes to the Gulf of Mexico.
The Baruch Institute has 10 resident scientists and two more with emeritus status. Since 1968, there have only been 21 resident scientists at the facility, which Clements characterized as “a remarkable retention rate.”
Baruch’s current faculty are also remarkably productive, with more than $8 million in research grants.
“None of this success would have been possible without many of our partners who are in this room,” Clements said. “It takes partnership and collaboration to make a difference in the world.”
Few, perhaps, have seen the impacts of Baruch more personally than former director and Clemson vice president for public service George Askew, who is now stationed on Clemson’s main campus but spent more than two decades at the place he said holds a special place in his heart.
“The saying goes that you can take the Tiger out of Clemson, but you can never take Clemson out of a Tiger,” Askew said. “Well, you can take me out of the Lowcountry and out of Hobcaw, but you can’t take it out of me.”
Van Bloem thanked the audience for helping to kick off the institute’s Golden Anniversary year and pointed to its status as a field station as vital in helping its students develop into scientific leaders.
“Field stations are special places,” he said. “Their very nature encourages students and faculty that are here to live and breathe science for an extended period of time. They say the best way to learn a language is to immerse yourself completely in it. Similarly, field stations allow us to immerse ourselves completely in science and research with few distractions.”
Baruch students share a roof for 15 weeks, and Van Bloem pointed out some of their numerous accomplishments, including designing more resilient canals and ditches for Horry County, revising forest management plans for the Clemson Pate Forest, constructing rainwater retention ponds to use for Extension programs and tracking Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes and fox squirrels after they were re-introduced to new habitats.
“Each project benefits from having the fresh perspective and energy of students, and each project provides a benefit to those living in and managing our Lowcountry natural environment,” he said.
Because the student experience is an essential part of the work at Baruch, Van Bloem said it only made sense to involve them in shaping the plan for its next 50 years. With the institute bursting at the seams with projects and ideas, its leaders turned to Clemson’s school of architecture to develop a new master plan focused on research support, housing and landscape design.
“Architecture students made five trips to Hobcaw to meet with our faculty, staff, students and partners,” Van Bloem said. “They listened to all kinds of complaints and desires. And they developed great solutions that are on display today.”
Van Bloem also said the institute owed a debt of gratitude to the Wallace F. Pate Foundation for Environmental Research and Education, which supports student experiences at Baruch by helping to fund student intern stipends through the Pate Partners program.
“Some of you here today have supported this program in the past,” Van Bloem said, “and we hope you will continue to do so. With your help, we can continue to grow, and more importantly, we can have an even greater impact on the students we teach, the community in which we live and the beautiful natural resources that we all love and benefit from so much.”