Today's guest blogger is our friend and newlywed, Erica Olivier. You might remember the Few Fun Days on Folly post we did last month for her wedding guests. Well, her wedding was held in one of the most gorgeous locations on the exterior of the Lowcountry line and today she's here to share more points of interest that lend a good, outdoors adventure.
When I moved to the Lowcountry 10 years ago (wow, has it really been that long?!) to attend the College of Charleston, I was excited to live in such a beautiful and historic city with a chance for water views pretty much every time I went to the grocery store. I was pleasantly surprised at the many opportunities available to enjoy the natural beauty of the nearby marshes, forests and waterways. Whether you’re outdoorsy in the sense that you enjoy brunch in the sun or you want to brush up on your survival skills after the latest episode of The Walking Dead, the Lowcountry has something for you.
You don’t have to travel too far from beautiful Charleston to get your nature fix. Just south of Charleston proper is the ACE Basin, a 217,000 acre nature preserve and one of the largest undeveloped estuaries on the east coast. The name ACE comes from the three rivers - The Ashepoo, the Combahee and the Edisto - that run through the state and drain to create the St. Helena Sound, emptying into the Atlantic Ocean between Edisto Beach and Beaufort.
The ACE Basin is home to several wildlife management areas - WMAs for short. A visit to one of these can offer the chance for some incredible nature trail hiking and wildlife watching, especially for coastal birds. My favorite so far is Bear Island WMA. Getting here requires a 40 minute drive on 17S to Bennett’s Point Road, which will take you down to the preserve adjacent to the South Edisto River. These waters are some of the most pristine around, and it’s all because they’ve been protected by NOAA and SCDNR (thanks, guys).
In fact, the ACE Basin waterways are so pristine, that they allow for quite the aquaculture presence here in Charleston. You like those plump, bright and briny local oysters that are in season, right now? Most of them come from the ACE Basin. Beaufort Cups, Single Ladies from Lady’s Island, ACE Blades, Otter Island Roasters and Charleston Salts are all sourced from this area, if you hadn’t already guessed from their names. I could go on and on about the oyster farms, fisheries and general “merroir” of the ACE Basin and surrounding Lowcountry that makes for some of the best seafood around, but that’s another blog post (Emily: Yes, please!)…
Ok, so let’s take a trip down the Edisto River headed toward the beach. There is plenty of outdoor fun to be had along the way. We’re going to start up in Canadys, which is about half way to Columbia. It’s far enough upstate that there isn’t even a trace of brackish in the river water. Here, you can kayak or canoe to a primitive treehouse camping spot. Wait, treehouses? Yes, true story. Channel your inner Swiss Family Robinson and spend a night here. No electricity, but there is running water and you’ll see and hear all sorts of wildlife from your deck. This is your big chance to sit around the fire and sing kumbaya, or whatever strikes your fancy.
If you haven’t had the opportunity to do a river float down the Edisto from Givhan’s Ferry State Park, you should. I shied away from this for quite a while because of my alligator hunting history… (bad karma?) but finally bit the bullet and loved every minute of the floats I’ve participated in, free of gator bites no less. Pack your car full of friends, snacks and drinks and spend an afternoon floating down the river in a tube (Recommendation: River Run 2, space for you and a small cooler). It’s relaxing and you’ll see several miles of beautiful blackwater river. It’s a unique opportunity to catch up with friends if the busy-ness of life has gotten in the way. You know, because you’re stuck in a tube next to them for 5 hours, but that’s where the cooler comes in.
Continuing our trip down the Edisto River, you can enjoy a picturesque drive down SC 174 towards the beach. It’s a 2 lane road that winds through marsh, forest and live oaks which hang over the highway itself. It takes about 20 minutes from the left turn off of 17S to get to Edisto Beach, and along the way there are several places worth a quick stop.
If you trail a boat, you can put in at the public landing by the McKinley Washington bridge - known as the Big Bridge to locals - crossing the river to Edisto Island, and run up the river towards Willtown Bluff. Keep an eye out for alligators! They’re everywhere out here, and some of them grow upwards of 14 feet long. If you decide to venture out by boat into the St. Helena Sound, one spot not to be missed is Monkey Island. It’s officially named Morgan Island, but it’s aptly nicknamed because of the colony of Rhesus monkeys that were relocated there from a research facility in Puerto Rico in the 70s. Crazy, right? I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t seen them with my own eyes and then immediately Googled to get the back story.
Once you get to Edisto Island, be sure to pull off at King’s Market. King’s is a family run farm and market where you can find some of the freshest local produce around. They also package up frozen meals and other treats to go in their commercial kitchen. The tomato pie was pretty much life changing for me and there is always an assortment of yummy casseroles. Pick up some snacks and wine for a picnic at Botany Bay which is another few miles down the road.
Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve and WMA is yet another nature preserve within the limits of the ACE Basin. The drive from Charleston takes about an hour so it’s perfect for an afternoon trip. Two working plantations used to operate here, and traces of them can still be seen as you make your way through the park. Bring a camera, because there are miles and miles of breathtaking marsh views and ancient live oaks. A short walk down a gravel path through tidal marshes will bring you to Boneyard Beach, named for the fallen oaks and large driftwood washed up on the shore. It doesn’t look like any of the other beach in the lowcountry and serves as a stunning backdrop for photography or a romantic stroll. Note - Botany Bay is closed for hunting from time to time, so be sure to check the website before making the drive out there.
Enough reading... go explore! After this rainy season, of course.