Promoting Outdoor Recreation
Natalie Cappuccio Britt is one of the state’s most dedicated advocates for preserving SC’s diversity of natural beauty
By WARREN HUGHES
South Carolina is one of the most rapidly growing states in the nation, at ninth in the country, with almost 90 percent of newcomers choosing to move here from elsewhere. One of them, Columbian Natalie Cappuccio Britt, has become a leading Sandlapper advocate.
Britt, who hails from Massachusetts, shows by her example what a gain she’s been for her adopted state. As executive director of the Palmetto Conservation Foundation, she is a champion for promoting South Carolina’s best asset, its abundant natural beauty.
Founded in 1989, PCF is dedicated to conserving South Carolina’s natural and cultural resources, preserving historic landmarks and promoting active outdoor recreation on its best-known contribution, The Palmetto Trail, and other greenways.
Britt felt an immediate connection to the outdoors when she arrived as a governmental affairs student at the University of South Carolina. “I was blown away by the diversity of the natural environment from the coast to the mountains,” she says. In meeting her future husband, Horry County native Ben, while at USC, she says, “We felt an immediate connection and passion for adventure. Together we explored state parks, enjoyed hiking and began mountain biking.” Now she crusades for the state from the foundation’s Shandon headquarters, while he works as an infectious disease pharmacist at Lexington Medical Center.
In South Carolina, Britt said she found a cause as well as an anchor. “I was drawn to a career that would allow me to crusade for quality of life issues here. Laughingly, she says, unlike many couples, rather than buying a house, their priority was enjoying the outdoors. “Our first major purchase at the time was two higher-end mountain bikes. I recall being terrified at making such a large purchase, but to this day, buying those bikes was one the best decisions we ever made as a couple. Our mountain bikes provided the opportunity for us to explore incredible places, escape the stresses of daily life, connect as a couple, get exercise and have a ton of fun.” It wasn’t long before Britt was able to persuade her parents, Carol and Gary Cappuccio, to come south make the state their permanent home as well.
“I am blessed beyond measure to be able to advance opportunities for South Carolinians to get outside and celebrate our great state. Building the Palmetto Trail is the greatest honor of my life,” says Britt, displaying the toned petite appearance of a champion athlete and the enthusiastic demeanor of a dedicated environmentalist.
The Palmetto Trail is 500 miles of cross-state hiking and bicycling paths beside lakes, across mountain ridges, through forests, into towns big and small and across swamps. The Palmetto Trail showcases conservation and preservation from mountains to sea, all while providing free public access to active, healthy outdoor recreation. Established 1994, the trail extends from Walhalla in the Blue Ridge Mountains to Awendaw on the Intracoastal Waterway. The trail is South Carolina’s longest pedestrian and bicycle trail and largest trail construction project, with 27 passages ranging from 1.3 to 47 miles.
Britt especially heralds the features making South Carolina a world-class destination. For example, she says, Jocassee Gorges in the Upstate recently has been named among ‘50 of the World’s Last Great Places and the Destination of a Lifetime’ by National Geographic magazine. With one of the highest concentrations of waterfalls in the eastern United States, the 50,000 acres of forestlands form the only temperate rain forest east of the Rockies. That’s not to mention the Congaree National Park in the Midlands and the internationally resorts of the coastal region.
The Palmetto Trail is not only a gift to outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy it, it is also a bonanza for local and state government. “As an accessible, free public resource, it inspires active, healthy recreation in South Carolina’s incredible outdoors with passages for a variety of activities from hiking, street cycling to mountain biking, backpacking and bird watching. Hundreds of thousands hit the trail every year for daytrips, weekend jaunts or longer treks, including end-to-end through hikes.
As another important asset, she says, “The well-planned trails attract new business, improve quality of life and stimulate economic growth. It’s our job to create a new generation of conservation-minded citizens to ensure our natural resources stay protected and available for the future.”
While the Palmetto Trail is PCF’s largest and best-known project, the most important program is its Palmetto Conservation Corps. “The Corps is South Carolina’s only trail-based AmeriCorps service and job-training program for young adults interested in public land management and environmental conservation,” she noted.
The 18 to 25-year-old corps members are certified for safety and taught to build and maintain recreational trails with the best construction practices. They also learn about leadership, teamwork, public land management, ecology and habitat protection. In addition to trail work, members assist state and federal agencies during disaster recovery and participate in other conservation projects.
The Palmetto Trail exemplifies the power of partnerships, Britt says. “We work with all levels of government, non-governmental organizations, corporations, businesses, educational institutions and volunteers. As partners, we plan, design, fund and build South Carolina’s only cross-state recreation trail. “The trail is an exceptional public resource for the state’s five million residents and 30 million visitors,” Britt says as the foundation’s chief advocate and one of the state’s most dedicated advocates. palmettoconservation.org
Natalie Cappuccio Britt
New York, N.Y, grew up in Greenfield, MA
Husband, Benjamin; Parents, Carol and Gary Cappuccio; Penelope, Boston Terrier fur baby
BA, Government, University of South Carolina
Tribute to Women in Industry (TWIN) Recipient, 2012; S.C. Secretary of State Angel Award; Excellence in Public Policy Award, S.C. Council on Physical Fitness