Upstate Forever has come a long way since Brad Wyche gave up his law practice and founded the nonprofit organization three years ago.
"Our basic mission is to keep the Upstate from becoming the next Atlanta," said Wyche.
It is a mission that has been well received, as nearly 1,000 individuals, families and companies have become supporting members.
Upstate Forever devotes much of its efforts to working with landowners who wish to protect their properties through conservation easements.
A conservation easement is a legal agreement in which the landowner relinquishes certain development rights, continues to own the property, and can receive substantial tax benefits.
As of 2002, Upstate Forever had received seven easements protecting more than 2,000 acres of land.
Three examples are the 1,200-acre Fairview Farm in Spartanburg County, a 200-acre tract rich in wildlife in southern Greenville County, and a 141-acre property adjoining Paris Mountain State Park.
"The whole Upstate owes Brad Wyche a debt of gratitude for making people aware of land use and conservation issues," said Madelon Wallace, a Spartanburg area real estate agent who helped negotiate the Fairview Farm easement.
"Uncontrolled growth is not a good thing," she said. "Somebody has to take the bull by the horns and try to do something about it. It's just vital to the future of our area."
Bud Myers of Tryon, N.C., who also helped negotiate the easement, had praise for Wyche as well. "He's a tower of strength and a wonderfully creative man."
Upstate Forever's message of "smart growth" and "sustainable development" has caught the attention of citizens and local officials throughout the region. The organization was instrumental in convincing Greenville County school trustees to spend an additional $2 million to carefully evaluate establishing "green school" standards for the massive project to construct and renovate more than 60 county schools.
Green schools, Wyche said, use natural lighting and environmentally friendly building materials, resulting in improved attendance, higher test scores, and lower energy bills.
Wyche attributes his interest in the environment to his father, Greenville lawyer and conservationist Tommy Wyche, who at an early age took him to the mountains for canoeing, hiking and backpacking trips.
"He's been an inspiration to me," Brad said of his father, who has worked for more than 25 years to protect tens of thousands of acres of mountain land in Greenville and Pickens counties.
"I'm excited about what we do," Wyche said. "I feel like we're making a difference. We try to make local officials and citizens at least think about these issues.
"But I'm deeply concerned about the direction the region is heading. We've got to start addressing these problems on a regional basis. We need to make a serious commitment to conservation and land-use planning."
It is Wyche's longtime work on behalf of the environment that caught the eye of Gov. Jim Hodges, who tapped Wyche in 1999 to serve as chairman of the South Carolina Board of Health and Environmental Control.
It is not a full-time or paid position, but the board has significant responsibilities -- it approves the state's health and environmental regulations and decides administrative appeals of permitting and certification decisions by the DHEC staff.
Wyche was named the 2001 recipient of the James S. Dockery Jr. Southern Environmental Leadership Award by the Southern Environmental Law Center.
"Brad is one of the most effective leaders in the South, period. We're fortunate his chosen cause is environmental protection," said the center's executive director, Rick Middleton.