Thursday, April 29, 2010

Lee State Natural Area. Part IX. Interview with Park Manager, Bryn Harmer.

Click here for the first post in this series.

Up this morning at Lee State Park fairly early. In time for a nice walk around the campground and surrounding trails. A beautiful morning.

boardwalk 5 Then over to the Park Office and a stroll out on Lee’s extensive boardwalk. More on that in a moment.

harmer 1 Just after 1:00 p.m. Lee State Park Manager, Bryn Harmer, arrived at the Office for our interview. She had been at a meeting at Columbia in the morning. We’ll ask her about the trip in a moment.

Click on the “click to listen” buttons to hear the audio.

ClickToListen As usual, we began with a personal introduction, including her education and early career. I was especially interested in her description of the program at Southern Illinois University that prepared her for this work.

harmer 2 I then asked Ms. Harmer about her career in the South Carolina Park Service. She certainly has had a diverse experience. Do you remember the posts here about Keowee-Toxaway State Park? Well, Ms. Harmer served there for a while. Another incredible Park.

ClickToListen You may have noticed that some Park Service facilities are “state parks,” while others are “state natural areas.” I asked Ms. Harmer to explain the difference for us. She did, and also mentioned that Lee hereafter will be “Lee State Park,” not “Lee State Natural Area.” That’s a relief!

award Now, about the trip to Columbia this morning. Ms. Harmer actually is on annual leave. She shouldn’t be in the office at all. Let alone doing interviews with visiting campers! But she and Ranger Shelley had to drive to Columbia this morning to receive another award. Lee County’s Adopt-A-Highway outstanding county group of the year. The second year running the Park has won the award. 


ClickToListen This is no small matter. South Carolina’s Adopt-A-Highway program has made a tremendous difference in the appearance of our State’s roads and highways. I mentioned Road 22 in an earlier post. It runs north for several miles from I-20 to Route 15. It’s the access route to Lee State Park. The front door, so to speak. Park personnel – and volunteers when they’re available – maintain the roadside in pristine condition. Take time to notice when you drive by. A time-consuming and often thankless task.

harmer 4 I then asked Ms. Harmer how she would describe her State Park. The features that stand out. From her perspective as Park Manager. Her description nicely summarizes the diversity of this environment. Both dry and wet. The sandhills portion supports one selection of flora and fauna. ClickToListen The wetlands another. Much of the Park is under water. At least for part of the year. Some of it permanently. This wetter area supports quite a different selection of plant and animal life. Lots to see, in other words.

Walking, hiking, and equestrian trails through the drier portions of the Park’s 3,000 acres provide several levels of access. The Park’s remarkable boardwalk even allows visitors to venture right into the wettest areas without inconvenience or danger.

ClickToListen A few posts back I mentioned equestrian facilities here at Lee State Park. So I asked Ms. Harmer to describe them. Come to find out the Park maintains seven miles of horse trails. As well as the horse-friendly campsites, corrals, and show ring. So, horse lovers take note!

pond You may recall the description of the four ponds behind the Park Office in an earlier post. I was curious about them. Were they built by the CCC? Or were they part of one or more of the seven homesteads on this property from long before the CCC?

ClickToListen Well, Ms. Harmer cleared that up. The larger pond, the one fed directly by the artesian wells, was a mill pond. The Park now stocks it with catfish for visiting fishermen. The three smaller, cascading, ponds were created by the CCC as part of a fish hatchery project.

harmer 5 Having been alerted by Ranger Lester Shelley that Ms. Harmer is an avid geochacher, I then asked her about that hobby. Click here to access a popular geocaching website. Looks interesting. Ms. Harmer noted that there are four active geocaches within the Park grounds. And at least one over at Woods Bay State Natural Area.

Lee State Park wasn’t crowded during my visit. But I was able to meet and talk with a variety of visitors. ClickToListen I asked Ms. Harmer who visits the Park, where they come from, and what they do while here. In addition to the horse folks and fishermen, she said the Park attracts a large number of one-nighter campers from the nearby Interstate. Folks who pull in, camp for one night, and then leave. What a shame. Be sure to plan to stay here several days if you happen to stop on your way to or from somewhere else. No sense to waste the opportunity.

teddy bears Ms. Harmer also mentioned the importance of Interpretive Ranger Laura Kirk’s programs for both children and adults. Lee State Park is designated by the Discover Carolina program for fifth graders. Though other school groups visit as well. What an opportunity for nearby schools. An expanded classroom!

woods bay walk In addition to her responsibilities for Lee State Park, Mr. Harmer also manages Woods Bay State Natural Area. The facility we visited yesterday. Back when Woods Bay had its own Park Manager, Ms. Harmer had the position. So, she’s well informed on Woods Bay in particular, and on the Carolina bay phenomenon in general.

ClickToListen Listen to her description of Carolina bays and of the importance of Woods Bay. The remarkable boardwalk there was completed last summer. She says it is 1,150 feet long. And she ought to know. She did the initial layout, wading through the swamp. Not a job I’d volunteer for! Even in chest-high waders. Let’s hope they’re successful in attracting the additional funding necessary to extend that boardwalk. You’ll have to see it to appreciate it.

harmer 6 In closing, I had to ask Ms. Harmer about the boardwalk at Lee State Park. It too is an impressive piece of work. 800 feet long, it ends in a large viewing platform with two solid wooden benches. ClickToListen Earlier in the day I was able to sit on one of those benches quietly to observe the birds. No other animals made an appearance, but the birds were enough.

Thanks again to Park Manager Bryn Harmer, Interpretative Ranger Laura Kirk, and Rangers Lester Shelley, Frederick Stukes, and Tim Ritter. You folks maintain a wonderful facility that I hope to be able to visit again in the not-too-distant future.

ClickToListen Click here to hear the interview with Park Manager Harmer in its entirety.

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Lee State Natural Area. Part VIII. Turbeville’s Chat ‘n Chew Restaurant

Click here for the first post in this series.

Lee County is a wonderful place to visit. But ubiquitous Wi-Fi isn’t one of its strongest features. Rangers at Lee State Park hearing I was going to Woods Bay suggested a visit to the new library in Olanta, South Carolina, for that essential service.

woods bay to olanta Olanta is a delightful little town less than four miles from the entrance to Woods Bay State Natural Area. With only about 700 fulltime residents it hardly seems the sort of place one would go for a robust Wi-Fi connection.

olanta library But just look at this new building! It’s as nice on the inside too. Though I resisted the temptation to take inside photos for fear of disturbing other patrons. Olanta’s library is brand new, dedicated in February of this year. Click here to read an article about the dedication from the Lake City News & Post.

At the ceremony, State Representative Phillip D. Lowe said: “A library is a great equalizer of people.” Now, that’s one of those “wish-I’d-said-that” statements! Worth thinking about.

Inside, Assistant Branch Manager Jessie Ellibee confirmed the presence of a robust Wi-Fi router, gave me permission to sign on, and described her Children’s Library. A great project.

An hour or so later, I asked Ms. Ellibee and her colleague for nearby restaurant suggestions. They had several. Folks in this part of South Carolina take food preparation and eating seriously! And we all benefit. So there were several establishments from which to choose.

Once they mentioned the “Chat ‘n Chew” in nearby Turbeville, though, I had to give it a try. I mean! The name alone was enough.

olanta to turbeville It takes only about ten minutes to drive from Olanta to Turbeville. A straight shot, as they say, along Route 301. Again, through beautiful fields on either side of the road. With rivers and wetlands here and there to break the monotony.

Turbeville, in Clarendon County, is another of those fascinating little towns that dot South Carolina’s landscape. Click here to access the Town’s ambitious website. Be sure to click on the website’s “History” link for a short but fascinating essay that covers Turbeville from its 1840s “Puddin’ Swamp” origins to present. Oh, and the current Mayor is named Ginie Turbeville. Apparently family still means something in this part of the country! I didn’t get to meet Her Honor. But I did meet Town Manager, Patrick G. Goodwin just after dinner. Turbeville’s lucky to have him.

I only had time this trip for a quick dinner in Turbeville. But it’s definitely on my list of “must-return” South Carolina towns. Again, be sure to check the website, and read that historical essay. You’ll understand why.

cnc 1 Speaking of dinner, you can’t miss the “Chat ‘n Chew” Restaurant. Right on Main Street. Where it’s been for at least 50 years. The restaurant, I learned, has had its ups and downs during the past five decades. But somehow it’s managed to remain an Institution.

cnc 2 Not only for folks from Turbeville. But for travelers on Routes 301 and 378. As well as many of the better informed travelers on I-95. No one is turned away!

cnc 3 Proprietor Bernie Blackman arrived in Turbeville from Myrtle Beach in the 1990s. He’d owned a motel there. And like most everyone else in the area he regularly stopped by the restaurant to – well … chat and chew! When I arrived, Mr. Blackman sat outside talking on a cell phone and smoking a cigarette. No smoking inside. Not even for him!

cnc 4 Mr. Blackman, or Bernie as he insisted on being called, told me he bought the landmark restaurant just a year or so ago. And has spent nearly every waking hour since remodeling, refurnishing, and repainting. Doing much of the work himself.

I asked Bernie why he decided to buy it. He replied, “Because it needed buying!”

For a moment I thought he was joking. But quickly realized he meant exactly that. The Chat ‘n Chew simply couldn’t be allowed to deteriorate. Even if it meant working daily from well before daylight until after dark. What we used to describe OverHome as “Cain’t see to Cain’t see.”

cnc 5 As inviting as the outside patio and garden are, the real draw is the Chat ‘n Chew’s food. Folks may pull off the highways here for the first time because of the unusual name. But, they’ll return for the food! This is serious cooking.

On the recommendation of the waitress, I had the pork chop dinner special. Which included two perfectly done pork chops, fresh green beans, okra and tomatoes, and a dish of potato salad. Plus, of course, iced tea, dessert, and a cup of coffee. Everything came to the table ready to eat. Home cooking from a commercial kitchen. In the best sense of that term.

Lots of restaurants serve excellent pork chops and fresh green beans. Okra and tomatoes, though, is a bit more risky. Everything has to be cooked at just the right temperature for just the right length of time, and seasoned just so. This dish was a perfect blend. I had to wonder how they were able to prepare it in restaurant quantities.

Were I you, I would avoid the sweet potato and coconut cream pies when you visit. They too are delicious. But the temptation is to eat more than one piece. I made the mistake of ordering a half-piece of each flavor, and ended up asking for a second serving of each. Oh my.

The real show-stopper at Chat ‘n Chew, however, was the potato salad. It was incredible. The second-best I’ve ever had. Anywhere! So good, in fact, that I asked Proprietor Bernie who made it. He said the same lady has been making Chat ‘n Chew’s potato salad for the past 30 years. She now only comes in a couple of times a week to make small batches. But it’s the same recipe. Incredible stuff. Be sure to ask if it’s available when you visit.

In spite of the upgraded look of the restaurant and its facilities, the Chat ‘n Chew has retained its traditional menu and recipes. They’ve also kept prices at a surprisingly low level. What a combination. I’d weigh 300 pounds in no time if I lived anywhere near Turbeville, South Carolina!

After dinner I chatted with Bernie, the wait staff, and town folks on the patio about the Chat ‘n Chew, about Turbeville, and about Clarendon County. Everyone had something useful to contribute.

Then all too soon, in the car and back on the road to Lee State Park. North on routes 58 and 341. Then east on I-20 to exit 123. Which is only a mile from the Park entrance. What a great day! Tomorrow I’m hoping to interview Lee State Park Manager Bryn Harmer. So stay tuned.

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Lee State Natural Area. Part VII. Visit to Nearby Woods Bay.

Click here for the first post in this series.

Earlier in the week, Lee State Park Ranger, Frederick Stukes, dropped by the campsite during his regular rounds of the Park facilities. Ranger Stukes was a great source of information about this Park, and about this whole area of South Carolina. Born in nearby Rembert, he was raised in an outdoors-oriented family that has produced other Park System Rangers. He’s been assigned to Lee for about three years, and really enjoys his job.

Ranger Stukes patiently answered my questions about the Park’s trees, water, and wildlife. Then I asked about Carolina Bay State Natural Area. He knew about that site too and provided solid background information. He often meets with Ranger Tim Ritter, now in residence at Woods Bay. He also mentioned that Ranger Ritter would be at the Park today.

WB sign So, over I went. Woods Bay used to have its own Park Manager. Now, though, it’s been placed under the jurisdiction of Lee State Park’s Manager, with a regular ranger living on the property.

map to woods bayWoods Bay State Natural Area may be managed by Lee State Park. But it’s not all that close. In fact, about 30 miles away. The trip took me about 50 minutes. In compensation, like so many drives here in Lee County, I passed through beautiful agricultural scenery. The huge, flat fields here with their big-wheeled irrigation rigs are simply spectacular. They make a mountain-grown lad’s heart skip a beat or two.

Woods Bay Google Earth Woods Bay is not a heavily visited facility within the South Carolina Park System. However, it has to be one of the most important. Here’s a view from Google Earth. You can easily see the northwest-to-southeast elliptical shape that’s characteristic of Carolina bays. And Woods Bay is one of the largest well preserved examples in existence.

wetland 2 Nearly 1,600 acres of mixed habitat. Including marsh, forest, and sand hills. Like Lee State Park in that regard

Click here for more information on Carolina bays. Quite a detailed Wikipedia article. More adventurous readers might enter “information about Carolina bays” in a Google search window. All sorts of material there. Some solid; some fanciful.

When you arrive at Woods Bay, check to see if the Nature Center is open. Ranger Ritter is available there only at certain times. He has plenty to keep him busy throughout the Park. And I believe he regularly works at other facilities as well. As do many of the Rangers in the system. I don’t know how they manage the workload.

The Nature Center includes a number of interesting displays. And, as with other Parks in the system, a preliminary look through the information available there will help you to better understand what you’ll see as you explore the Park itself.

alligator display Speaking of which, here’s a display sure to attract attention. I failed to get a name. But he’s certainly formidable-looking. Ranger Tim told me that he’s actually a Texas alligator. From off, in other words! Just like me. Slightly different from the alligators found here at Woods Bay.

carolina bay poster Less impressive, perhaps, but even more informative – at least for me – was this wall-mounted poster that explains Carolina bays. The best I’ve seen so far. Be sure to click on the image above to see a larger version.

tree front As you step back out onto the porch of the Nature Center be sure to have a good look at this tree just across the road. It’s a recent feature. Well … obviously, it’s been there for some time. But it’s been hidden by surrounding brush and shrubbery. Recently cleared to get this beautiful view. Trees like this can be seen throughout the Woods Bay site. Most of them, however, require a bit more walking to enjoy!

signposts Here, toward the left, is a signpost that directs you to most of Woods Bay’s treasures. Not all, to be sure. But the nature trail and the boardwalk will keep you busy for at least several hours.

Note how well this facility is maintained. Not a scrap of trash; grass mowed, where appropriate; brush trimmed back. Again, where appropriate. All of this must take time. I certainly hope that Woods Bay has a large an active corps of volunteers to help Ranger Tim Ritter. Just too much for a single individual to handle.

boardwalk 1 Rangers Shelley and Stukes both sang the praises of the new boardwalk at Woods Bay. So off I went. Now, this is an impressive piece of work!

boardwalk 2 Thanks to the boardwalk, all of us get the opportunity to view this remarkable Carolina bay wetland from the inside out. Even those of us with limited mobility. Fine even for wheelchairs and strollers. Click on the photo above to see the pilings of the old boardwalk to the right. They’re being removed as time permits. Perhaps you’d like to volunteer to jump in the water and dig up a few of those posts!

wetland 1 Also, consider what a job it must have been to build that boardwalk. Can you imagine wading out through this murky water and vegetation before construction to determine the boardwalk’s path? [I later learned that Lee State Park Manager Bryn Harmer and a colleague were the ones who did it!] It’s a beautiful spot. But I was happier walking along the boardwalk than I would have been slogging through the muck!

boardwalk 3 Then suddenly, after several hundred feet, the boardwalk simply ended! I asked later about that and learned that was as far as available funding took it.

The hope is to add several hundred more feet, and even an observation tower at the end that will allow visitors to climb up for an unusual view of this Carolina Bay. Imagine that! I’m going to keep an eye on this project, and certainly will return when the additional footage and the tower are added. After reading about Carolina bays, this opportunity to walk around smack dab in the middle of a large one helps to put the information in perspective.

green bug I’d hoped to see at least one of the alligators that call Woods Bay home during this visit. No such luck. Didn’t even see a single snake. This bright green insect did show itself on the boardwalk. Also a beautiful creature.

boardwalk 4 The walk back from the end of the boardwalk was as interesting as the walk in. It’s beautifully laid out, providing spectacular views of the surrounding scenery at every turn.

turtle One small turtle came out to sun itself on a log protruding from the water.

moss on tree Don’t leave Woods Bay until you’ve also walked the nature trail. It offers more spectacular views of a different part of this Carolina bay.

trail It’s not as accessible as the boardwalk, of course. But from beginning to end it’s well maintained, level and smooth. Also about the right length.

Turn right when you step off the beginning of the boardwalk and before long you’ll see the trail on your left. It’s well marked from beginning to end.

wetland 3 Here too there are dozens, if not hundreds, of varieties of interesting plants to see.

I’ve got to learn more about South Carolina plant life. Visiting areas like this with limited knowledge of the plant life is like traveling in a foreign country without knowing the language. Pleasant. But the visitor is bound to miss a lot.

Suddenly it was late afternoon and time to leave Woods Bay State Natural Area. I’d only been able to scratch the surface of this incredible resource during this visit of several hours. Another must-return site.

Time to find a public WiFi cloud. And to get back to the Aliner at Lee State Park to get some writing done. Oh, and maybe a light dinner on the way … So stay tuned.

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Lee State Natural Area. Part VI. The Loop Road

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Like most state parks, especially those that include wetlands, much of Lee State Natural Area is inaccessible. Inaccessible by car certainly. And much of it inaccessible even by foot. Just too difficult to get around.

Loop Road The original CCC designers and creators of this Park recognized the problem. And went to some effort to improve the situation by creating a loop road several miles long through some of the most interesting parts of the Park. Click on the Google Earth clip above for a better view. You can see the faint trace of the road just outside the yellow line.

scraped road Inclusion of this road in the Park’s design was no casual undertaking! It required large amounts of fill dirt. Hard packed and smoothed. Dirt that had to be dug out and hauled without sophisticated road-building equipment. Even today, as you see above, this Loop Road requires intensive maintenance. Done, I think, with the help of Lee County Highway folks and their equipment.

Scraper Fortunately, equipment today is more advanced than that available to the CCC in the 1930s.

A good portion of Loop Road is closed to vehicular traffic for most of the year. That part built through the wetlands near the Lynches River. But you can still hike it. I didn’t. But wish now that I had.

Driving up from the campground entrance both sides of the road are a botanist’s dream. The combination of sand hills and wetland plants makes for interesting scenery. Let alone the wildlife! Deer, birds, and I presume reptiles. Though I didn’t see any this trip.

horse center sign Soon on the right you’ll see the sign for the Equestrian Center. Complete with a large show ring, concession stand, and stables toward the rear.




This is a nice facility. Kept clean as a whistle. And, combined with the equestrian camping area, it makes Lee State Park the place place to visit with your horse.

Drive on up Loop Road to the “Road Closed” sign. On the left you’ll see the youth group camping area with its new high-tech privy. I forgot to get a photo of that technological marvel. But it’s state-of-the-art.

Park the car and either walk as far as is comfortable down Loop Road and back. Or, look around this group camping area. Another fine place to admire the work of the CCC crew who created this Park. Those fellows certainly earned their $30.00 per month! $22.00 of which they never saw since it was sent home directly to their families.

cabin Here’s another example of their buildings. An open-air cabin built on sloping ground.

cabin 2 Here’s another view of the same building. The wood, undoubtedly, has been replaced a number of times over the past seven decades. [But, it turns out, that's not true. Just my speculation. Actually, most of the wood is original. Incredible! Thanks Bryn, for the info.]

cabin 3 But the design and most of the stone/brick work remain the same. Listen closely enough and you can hear echoes of past lectures on wetlands given in this room. And ghost stories! Lee County must be full of folks who retain fond memories of their camping trips to this very spot.

pool This wading pool, fed by another of the Park’s artesian springs, is another CCC creation.

pool 2 The water from the spring is crystal-clear. Inviting on a hot day. Though I don’t know if it’s recommended for drinking. [Park Manager Bryn Harmer wrote to tell me DHEC regularly checks these Artesian springs and that they are indeed safe to drink from. Good water too! Thanks Bryn for the info.]

brown lake Before you leave this camping area, walk out on the path being built over to the lake. I think it’s called Brown Lake. If you don’t hike the wet portion of Loop Road, this will give you some idea of what you’re missing.

The minute I stepped on a fallen log that projected out into the water large turtles splashed off their sunny perches. If you look closely near the center of the photo above you can see one brave soul who threw caution to the wind and retained his perch. Before long, fish were jumping to the surface after insects foolhardy enough to land there. Quite a place.

petals So, be sure to take a drive along Loop Road when you visit Lee State Park. And allocate enough time to enjoy it. Lots too see.

Tomorrow I hope to visit Woods Bay Natural Area. A 1,600-acre property near here that includes one of the largest remaining Carolina bays. So stay tuned.

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