Paddling downstream from Camden, several miles before reaching Garner's Ferry and just below where Spears Creek enters the Wateree River on your right, Cook's Mountain rises above the river and surrounding land. The first European to comment on the remarkable mountain was John Lawson, exploring for the King of England in 1700. The abundance of Native American artifacts found here attest to its prominence in Wateree Indian society as well. In the mid 1700's, surveyor James Cook purchased this property and lived here while he oversaw the survey and mapping of the colony's navigable waters for England and the South Carolina Commons.
Half of the very large, linen cloth original James Cook map, saved during a fire, presently hangs in the South Carolina Historical Society in Charleston. After the map was completed, James Cook returned to England, selling his property, including the mountain, to such famous South Carolinians as Henry Middleton, Arthur Middleton and Joseph Kershaw. Cook's map, presented to the South Carolina Assembly in 1773, shows his house on the top of the mountain. There is presently one residence on Cook's Mountain. The property is used for education, recreation and managed intensively for wildlife habitats. Cook's Mountain is a uniquely diverse property, composed of heavy red clay with sandstone outcroppings, and many different ecosystems from the mountain itself to the tupelo-cypress swamp below. Several unusual plant communities are found here, along with an abundance of animals including deer, wild turkeys, waterfowl, wild hogs and occasionally bear and cougars.
In June 2015, the state of South Carolina took possession of Cook's Mountain, Goodwill Plantation and Rainbow Ranch from Romarco Minerals Inc. The deal which gave control of the properties to the state Department of Natural Resources, allows Romarco Minerals to reopen the Haile Gold mine which is expected to be the largest gold mine in the eastern United States. The mine located in rural Lancaster County will destroy up to 1,100 acres of wetlands requiring other land to be protected to mitigate the damage. Cook's Mountain is now part of the Wateree River Heritage Preserve managed by DNR.
See the SCDNR page for the Wateree River Heritage Preserve / Wildlife Management Area for more information.
Yancey McLeod, former President of the South Carolina Association of Conservation Districts, spends most of his professional time today assisting clients in designing plans for blending conservation with development. He received his B.A. from Wofford College and his J.D. from the University of South Carolina Law School. He has extensive experience in the natural resource arena, including 30 years in natural resource based education. In 1999, South Carolina Governor Jim Hodges awarded Mr. McLeod the South Carolina Environmental Awareness Award, 'as a result of his dedication to South Carolina's environment and his extraordinary educational accomplishments.' He currently serves Clemson University on the Forestry and Natural Resources Board and previously served Clemson University on the Sandhill Research & Education Center Board, the Public Service & Agriculture Advisory Board, and the Aquaculture, Fisheries & Wildlife Board. Mr. McLeod also served on the University of South Carolina Prince George Advisory Board and currently serves on the board of the South Carolina Conservation Foundation, the Gills Creek Watershed Association and Carolina Wildlife Care.
Mr. McLeod served on the Law Enforcement Advisory Board of the SC Department of Natural Resources for 17 years, as a Conservation Commissioner for 15 years, served 7 years on the board of the Congaree Land Trust, served as the State Cancer Crusade Chairman, on the Board of Trustees of Heathwood Hall Episcopal School, and as Stewardship Chairman and on the Vestry at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral.
Mr. McLeod is a frequent guest speaker at banquets, conferences, seminars, and schools, on subjects including conservation, education, wildlife management, and giving children the opportunity to love the land.