Brad Wyche left his law firm behind 20 years ago to preserve the Upstate

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Brad Wyche, founder of Greenville-based conservation organization Upstate Forever. Photo by Will Crooks.

Firm: Wyche Law Firm (1979 to 1998)

Area of practice: Environmental law

Education: Holds a bachelor’s degree in geology and environmental studies from Princeton University and earned his law degree from the University of Virginia. Also has a master’s degree in natural resource management from Yale University.

Community involvement: Founder and former executive director of Upstate Forever, a Greenville-based conservation organization that “protects critical lands, waters, and the unique character” of the region. Also served on Gov. Dick Riley’s Council on Natural Resources and the Environment, Gov. Mark Sanford’s Climate Change, Energy, and Commerce Advisory Committee, the South Carolina Coastal Council, and as chair of the South Carolina Board of Health and Environmental Control.

After practicing as an attorney in Greenville for nearly two decades, Brad Wyche decided to leave his family’s law firm to launch Upstate Forever, a nonprofit organization.

Wyche, who served as executive director of Upstate Forever until 2015, has since become one of the state’s most influential conservationists, working to develop the Swamp Rabbit Trail and preserving countless natural resources throughout the region. He now serves as senior adviser to Upstate Forever and as a board member of Naturaland Trust, a nonprofit launched by his father, Tommy Wyche, in 1973 to preserve the region’s natural resources.

The Upstate Business Journal recently sat down with Wyche to discuss his love of nature and his legacy. The following transcription has been edited for brevity and clarity.

How did you develop your passion for conservation?

I developed it at an early age while hiking, backpacking, and canoeing with my father. Our favorite river was the Chattooga, which turned out to be the focus of our very first environmental advocacy effort. In the late 1960s, [my] dad and I joined forces with many others in advocating for the river’s inclusion in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. We submitted an article about the Chattooga to National Geographic magazine. The article wasn’t accepted, but we used it and the photos in the campaign. Congress named the Chattooga a National Wild and Scenic River in 1974.

What prompted you to leave Wyche Law Firm and launch Upstate Forever?

At the time there was no serious discussion about growth and land use issues in the Upstate region. Continued growth was inevitable, but we had — and still have — a real choice about where and how growth occurs. Do we want to become the next Atlanta, or a different type of region with plenty of green space, productive farmlands, clean rivers, vibrant communities, and a high quality of life for all? I saw a real need for an organization like Upstate Forever to focus attention on this key question and on the policies and incentives that would avoid the “Atlantification” of our region. Also, at the time, there was no regional land trust program for conservation-minded landowners in the Upstate. Naturaland Trust was working in the mountains, and there were a few small land trusts.  But there was no regional program. So, from the very beginning, Upstate Forever has had a broad mission that includes both a land trust program and advocacy work for clean water, land-use planning, balanced growth, and sustainable development.

What are some conservation projects you oversaw at Upstate Forever?

The Swamp Rabbit Trail was our very first project. I had just left the law firm when I heard the news that the railroad had decided to sell the entire rail corridor from Greenville to Travelers Rest. I immediately got involved and was raising private funds for Upstate Forever to purchase the corridor in case Greenville County decided not to acquire it. But to its great credit, the county stepped up and purchased it. Then we spent several years working with the county, the city of Greenville, Furman University, the city of Travelers Rest, Greenville Health System, and other stakeholders in making the trail a reality. The trail is a spectacular example of how we can have it both ways — conservation and economic prosperity. I’m very proud of our work in permanently protecting over 20,000 acres of special places across the region, such as Stumphouse Mountain, Nine Times, Greenbrier Farms, Timber Creek Farm, Lake Conestee Nature Park, and lands adjoining Jones Gap and Paris Mountain state parks, to name just a few. Many more exciting projects are in the pipeline.

What do you love most about the conservation work you do?

I really love all of the work, but not every project or initiative is a success. But when you do succeed, it’s so gratifying, whether it’s working with a family in protecting their beloved farm, seeing the removal of the dams on Twelve Mile River, opening the Swamp Rabbit Trail, or having a government body enact an important law or ordinance. When that happens, you forget all of the stress, setbacks, and disappointments and are eager to start work on the next project.

For more information, visit upstateforever.org or naturalandtrust.org.

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