Hear this >… Here!
EXIT 18, I-95n to Ridgeland; in Ridgeland, South Carolina
Over to your right you can see the walls and gun towers of a large prison. Welcome to the town of Ridgeland!
Ridgeland was formerly known as Gopher Hill. Years before now, job opportunities were slim in Jasper County so the state government would provide such gems as prisons to provide good jobs for Jasper county locals. Since 1995, Ridgeland is home to the Ridgeland Correctional Institution — and its 1100 inmates.
They even changed the names of towns like this here Ridgeland to be more attractive to settlers. Apparently Ridgeland's former name was Gopher Hill. But Gopher Hill was not deemed alluring enough when the railroad came through. Railroads wanted settlement along their lines and no one wanted to live in a town called Gopher Hill. So they changed Gopher Hill to Ridgeland. This despite the fact Gopher Hill was named not for the pesky rodent but supposedly for the much more alluring Gopher Tortoise.
Gopher tortoises grow to be up to 15 inches long and weigh from eight to 15 pounds. Gopher tortoises can live up to 80 years in the wild and more than 100 years in captivity. They are slow to reach sexual maturity at 10 to 20 years old and being tortoises, well, let's just say they have a slow reproductive rate. After all, these Romeos are no rabbits. They lay their eggs at the entrance of their burrows to capture the heat, which makes it easy for predators like opossums and raccoons to eat them. Even under good conditions, only about three to five percent of the young tortoises typically survive.
Primarily herbivorous creatures, gopher tortoises are not picky eaters. They eat grasses, mushrooms, cactus and basically any low hanging fruit.
At the northern edge of its range, the gopher tortoise was once common in the area.
Gopher tortoises tend to be quite feisty as tortoises go and dig burrows which other animals like to inhabit. Like tiny bulldozers, they use those stumpy legs to scoop out tunnels up to 40 feet long and 10 feet deep. It's these burrows that make gopher tortoises so special. Rodents, reptiles, skunks, even foxes and coyotes use tortoise dens to seek shelter. As such they are considered a keystone species especially in sandy pine barrens.
Known to use its head to butt other tortoises, The reptile's feisty personality makes her a good representative for her species, which has declined due to habitat loss, disease, poaching, and over development. Now restoration and captive breeding programs have been instrumental in increasing the reptile’s populations.
However, the tortoises loss hereabouts is Jasper county's gain. Because of their threatened status, please do brake for tortoises. On the other hand, do not stop for burly hitchhikers in fashionably understated jump suits.
Business wise, things have taken a change for the better. For several decades, in contrast to upcoming Beaufort County, Jasper was one of the poorest counties in the state. Recent development from two thousand onwards has given the county new residents, expanded business opportunities, and improved the tax base. Since 2010, Jasper County is the second-fastest-growing county by population in South Carolina.
Good for Jasper County. Bad for Gopher Tortoises.
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