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tional Heritage Area by Congress in 2006. Still under development – the first draft of the management plan is out for comments – the Gullah/ Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor began with one man’s idea. In 1992, the National Park Service as- signed Michael Allen to what would become the Charles Pinckney Na- tional Historic site; he’s now stationed there as a community partnership specialist. Inspired by a missing aspect of Southern history he noticed as a col- lege co-op student working at Fort Moultrie and Fort Sumter, Allen wanted to ensure that the African- American side of the story was included at the Low- country’s national parks. While working with the community to weave that story into the develop- ment of the Pinckney site and the area’s other parks, Allen realized the historic footprint of the African culture reached further than first anticipated, and what is now U.S. High- way 17 was the path it


T


HE U.S. HIGHWAY 17 WIDENING project in Mount Pleasant goes right through the middle of the Gullah/ Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, which extends from Wilmington, North Carolina, to St. Augustine, Florida, and was designated as a Na-


ignated as the Sweetgrass Basket Makers Highway in 2006, the same year the sweetgrass basket became South Carolina’s official state craft. When planning for the U. S. Highway 17 North widening project began, and it became clear that many of the approximately 60 sweetgrass basket stands were going to be affected by the roadway improvements, the town of Mount Pleasant put together a comprehensive plan – with input from everyone involved. Town Council Member Tomasena Stokes-Marshall,


Top: Cars rush past the sweetgrass basket stands. Below: Marie Wine hangs a sheet on her stand to block the afternoon sun.


executive director of the Sweetgrass Cultural Arts Fes- tival Association, has been involved in the process. She explained how sweetgrass basket makers have been practicing their craft in the Mount Pleasant area for more than 300 years. It wasn’t until around 80 years ago, though, that the baskets spread be- yond the Lowcountry. In 1931, when U.S. High- way 17 was first paved, a sweetgrass basket maker placed her chair along the road and started sell- ing baskets. When others learned that passersby were stopping to pur- chase her wares, they followed her example. As the custom grew, some basket makers built stands on their own property in front of their homes, while others set up in the right of way at the edge of forestland. For more than 80


used to expand in the 1700s and 1800s. Word of the investigation into West African influences on the Lowcountry reached U.S. Rep. James E. Cly- burn, who put some muscle behind the project. In 2000, the appropriations bill he sponsored passed the U.S. Congress, and the National Parks System’s Lowcountry Gullah Study began. In 2006, the results were presented to Congress, and the Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor was established with a mission to preserve, pro- tect and sustain this part of the American experience. Roadside sweetgrass basket stands are the most visible aspect of the Gullah/Geechee culture displayed along U.S. Highway 17. A portion of the highway was des-


years, Mount Pleasant has grown around them. As they developed their properties, some landowners accom- modated the existing stands, while others have con- structed new stands for the basket makers displaced by new construction. “Mount Pleasant Towne Centre did a great job of building nice stands with designated parking,” said Stokes-Marshall in praise of the large shopping center located on U.S. Highway 17. Te town’s new Sweetgrass Basket Overlay District along U.S. Highway 17 provides a transportation im- pact fee credit to encourage business owners to build and maintain wooden sweetgrass basket stands on their


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