Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Walking the Hunting Island State Park Lagoon Access Recreation Trail, SC

Click here for the Table of Contents for this Series

I’ve never paid much attention to Hunting Island State Park’s hiking/walking/biking trails. There’s just so much else to do. Well, that was a mistake. Last visit, encouraged by Park Manager Jeff Atkins, I spent a morning walking the Hunting Island Lagoon Access Recreation Trail. That trail is remarkable. Ideal for ElderHikers with a love of nature and curiosity about things wild.

mapThis screen capture of the Park trail map, available at the Park Office, Nature Center, and Campground Store, is a little blurry. But it’ll give you an idea of the trail’s location. Just click for a full-sized image. [And, click here to access the full map on your computer.]

ElderHikers take note: When you drive to the parking area you’ll see a series of parking spaces on the left hand side, toward the Lagoon. Keep going. Drive on until you see the trash and comfort station facilities indicated by the red arrow in the photo above. Then you’ll be near the trail’s access point.

It’s only a short walk across the road to the signs above.

There you’ll have a couple of choices. Turn right for the Magnolia Trail, and left for the Lagoon Access Trail. I chose the latter. And hope to walk the Magnolia Trail next visit.

This trail is beautifully planned from beginning to end. Here and there you’ll find picnic tables. Like this one. Also wooden benches thoughtfully scattered along the way.

Best of all, for those of us who aren’t quite as spry as we once were, is the surface of the trail. It’s just as you see above from beginning to end. No need for folks relying on wheels to turn around after a few hundred feet.

Here and there was evidence of what must have been a controlled burn through this area a couple of years ago. Can you imagine assuming responsibility for one of those operations in this environment!

That’s a good thing. It may help to account for the beautiful natural scenery along the way. What a way to see first-hand the unusual plants and trees that cover this South Carolina barrier island.

Here’s one of the many live oaks. These trees, with their unpredictable shapes, seem somehow to have individual personalities. You can see plenty of them here without leaving the trail.

Concise description of the woods seen on either side of this trail is beyond me. I won’t even try. Various types of palmettos and pines, live oaks, and other shrubs and trees that I couldn’t identify. The woods here are quite different than anything I’ve seen elsewhere in South Carolina. Including at the other ocean side State Parks.

Even the forest sounds here are different. The dry palm fronds slapping against the trunks of their trees make a thwack and rustle that distinguishes this from other forest areas. Just sit on one of the trailside benches and have a listen. What an experience! I encountered only two other people along the whole trail. A young couple on mountain bikes. Great for listening. But I’ll bet it’s a lot busier here on the weekends.

Oh, there also were two kayakers out on the lagoon. They were too far away to make noise. Fun to watch paddling along. Made me wish I had the Advanced Elements Expedition along this trip.

And then, far too soon, I reached the end of the trail. Walk out on the bridge for a nice view up the Lagoon if you have time. And then enjoy the walk back. Note that the wide, level, comfortably-surfaced trail extended clear to the end. Great for folks relying on wheels.

Throughout the walk I saw little wildlife. Mostly brown pelicans swooping along the Lagoon, diving here and there to collect a fish. A few deer tracks crossed the trail down toward the southern end. But that was it. Not even many birds. I probably was making too much noise as I went along. 

So there you have it. The best ElderHiking trail I’ve encountered in South Carolina. Hunting Island’s Lagoon Access Recreation Trail. A trail that somehow manages to combine easy access with genuinely interesting views of the forest.

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Stay tuned, now, since we have an interview with Hunting Island Park Manager, Jeff Atkins, coming up next.

Click here for the Interview with Jeff Atkins

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Hunting Island State Park Light House: Interview with current “Lighthouse Keeper,” Hank Carden

Click here for this series’ table of contents

I’ve visited Hunting Island’s famous lighthouse before. Several times before, in fact. But never felt energetic enough to climb to the top. Well, this visit I was determined to do just that.

Standing over 132 feet above the ground, with I-can’t-remember-how many steps, that’s no casual undertaking for an ElderHiker. This ElderHiker, anyway. But temptation overruled caution. I paid my $2.00 climbing fee. And hiking staff in hand, mounted the steps.

I made it! Quite easily. The climb wasn’t bad at all. This lighthouse was made to climb, come to think of it.

Sometimes while carrying 50 pounds of lamp oil in one hand!

With a comfortably designed stairway, blessed with nine landings for those of us who might want to rest a moment along the way.

These landings, by the way, each have an informational plaque. They’re all worth reading. With just enough text to provide an excuse to linger a while …. So don’t speed by in your zeal to reach the top.

The view of the beach from the observation platform at the top, as you might expect, is spectacular.

But that’s not all. Move around to the other side of the observation platform for an unusual view of South Carolina’s coastal forest. From the top down! A pair of binoculars would be nice about now ….

And look at this. It’s not a telescope. No magnification. Instead, look through and you’ll see the original location of this lighthouse. Over a mile away. Out in the water now. It was moved in 1889. We’ll learn more about that in a moment.

If you want to learn more about this remarkable facility you can buy one of the many books that have been written on it. Some of them quite good. But none of them cheap.

Or, you can climb the lighthouse, pay close attention the informational signs, and study the exhibits on the lighthouse grounds.

But to learn even more, take a moment to chat with the folks selling tickets. They are the current “lighthouse keepers.” Volunteers all.

During this visit I caught up with one of the current Keepers, Hank Carden. In a weak moment Hank agreed to do a short interview. “It’ll only take five minutes, Hank,” I assured him. Well …. You know how that goes.

Hank turned out to be an ideal guide to the Lighthouse. He insisted before the interview that he was no “lighthouse expert.” But as you’ll hear below, he has just the right combination of technical background, knowledge of the facility, and ability to explain things clearly. Further, he’s a “natural” in front of a microphone.

As usual, we began with a personal introduction, including Hank’s career up to retirement. He understands how the things he’s explaining actually work! And, when necessary, can even fix most of them.

I then asked Hank how he and his wife happened to come all the way to Hunting Island from Fowler, Indiana. And about how they’ve adapted to living full-time in an RV. Hank explained that he’s “living his dream.”

By then, well more than five minutes had elapsed, so I asked about the Lighthouse, and what he and his wife do while on duty. Come to find out, together with another couple, they even do the cleaning, inside and out, as well as sell the tickets.

That involves morning and evening climbs to the top, to open and close the doors and windows. A task Hank said his wife undertakes.

Hank also described the Lighthouse visitors. As many as 400 a day can visit during the busy summer months!

Come to find out, the Friends of Hunting Island group has assumed major responsibilities for Lighthouse upkeep. Repainting the whole facility in 2009, and even providing the maintenance staff that keeps the place as spic ‘n span as a military installation. The $2.00 climbing fee goes directly to support their work.

We closed our conversation with some details about the operation of the Lighthouse, and an explanation of how it was moved from its original location to here in 1889. Can you believe that work was done in only 4 months!

Thanks again, Hank Carden, for your contribution of time and expertise to the CarolinaConsidered Project.


Some readers have written to say their browsers don’t show the embedded audio links properly. Here are direct links to them. I’ll try to remember to include direct links at the bottom of future posts. Just click a link below and a new window will open with your default player. Be patient. It may take Libsyn, the audio file host, a few seconds to send you the sound.






Click here for the next post, a walk along the Lagoon Access Recreation Trail

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Return to Hunting Island State Park

01 HI campsite

Table of Contents for This Series

Yes, yes; I know. I’ve visited here before. Many times before. But, really, who can blame me. Hunting Island is one of the most attractive Parks in the whole State system.

moon wavesMore objectively, it’s the busiest, most visited Park in the System. Earning revenue well beyond its costs, revenue that helps to support many other South Carolina State Parks. I find it especially appealing as an RV camping destination during the winter months when it isn’t quite as busy. Even in the dead of winter, though, it’s busy enough.

If you want one of the oceanfront campsites, like the one you see in the photo at the top, you’d better plan months in advance. Even throughout the winter. They fill up quickly.

Speaking of Hunting Island’s oceanfront campsites, if you haven’t visited for a while, be sure to confirm that your favorite oceanfront site still exists. Or that it hasn’t been renumbered.

shore sites fenceLong-time visitors may remember the beautiful sites on the ocean side of the road that were numbered, if memory serves, in the 50s. Where the red arrow points on the map above. Well, as you can see, they no longer exist.

The shoreline of Hunting Island changes constantly, some times faster than at other times. And you see the result. Still, though, quite a few RV campsites at Hunting Island with ocean views remain.

lighthouse 1This trip we’ll re-visit the Hunting Island Light House, climb to the top, in fact, and talk briefly with Hank, who was substituting as Light House Tender when I arrived.

trail 01Then we’ll drive over for a hike, or walk, on the Lagoon Trail. The nicest Park hiking trail I’ve found so far.

atkins 01Finally, we’ll talk with Park Manager Jeff Atkins, who will tell us more about his Park than is available from all of the brochures and literature.

So, stay tuned, and click the link below for a visit to South Carolina’s most famous lighthouse.

Click here for the Lighthouse visit

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Interview with Caw Caw Interpretive Center Manager, Mr. Thomas Thornton

Click here for the first post on the Caw Caw Interpretive Center

While looking through the Caw Caw Interpretive Center’s Exhibit Hall, I had the good fortune to meet Center Manager, Mr. Thomas Thornton. We chatted a moment, and I asked if he would be willing to sit for a five-minute CarolinaConsidered audio interview. In a moment of weakness, Mr. Thornton agreed, and we were able to chat on tape.

(Just click the triangular “play” buttons in these embedded sound files to hear the interview.)

Mr. Thornton was born and raised in Columbia, South Carolina, where he took a BA in history at the University of South Carolina. After moving to Charleston and teaching high school for a few years he came to Caw Caw with the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission. He’s been here now for about eight years.

I’ve yet to meet a Park or Center manager able to describe their facility in just a few words. But Mr. Thornton came about the closest with his explanation of the origins of the Caw Caw Center. About one square mile of Colonial era rice plantations. Six hundred-some acres that includes nearly every natural environment of South Carolina’s coastal plain.

Rice, according to Mr. Thornton’s explanation, was grown successfully here from 1703 to the 1870s. Existing tupelo swamps had to be cleared for this, of course. How difficult that must have been, especially using only late 18th and early 19th century technology. But it was done, and the efforts of those early planters made possible today’s even more diverse ecosystem at Caw Caw.

Imagine: 256 species of birds and over 400 species of plants within walking distance! This is an incredible place. And I thought I could see it all in two hours! Oh my.

But the Caw Caw Interpretive Center is far more than an interesting natural environment awaiting curious visitors. Emphasis here is on interpretation, as its name suggests.

The Center runs programs open to public participation too numerous to list here. Everything from bi-weekly bird walks to their popular “Heritage to Habitat” and “Sunset to Moonrise” tours. I think the latter is even a canoe/kayak tour. Each tour includes participation of naturalists and historians who “interpret” the area to the tour participants.

They also offer programs for more specialized groups that Center staff customize to the needs and interests of those visitors. Schools throughout the State have discovered Caw Caw. It’s a popular destination for their field trips. Oh, and don’t forget the Master Naturalist and Junior Master Naturalist programs hosted here. I can’t imagine how they handle their busy schedule of programming with such limited staff! Click here for a list of the Center’s programs.

I then asked Mr. Thornton to describe his Center’s overall mission. He referenced the “Heritage to Habitat” signs outside, and said that “Heritage to Habitat” is integrated into every Center program. Emphasis is on a multidisciplinary approach to interpretation that provides depth and context. Mr. Thornton used the Exhibit Hall as an example. Natural history is on one side; cultural history is on the other; and exhibits along the dividing wall integrate the two. Sounds complicated. But it works.

By now we had gone far beyond the proposed five minutes for this interview, and I began to feel guilty for taking so much of Mr. Thornton’s working day. But I just had to ask about the tea plants that proliferate through the Caw Caw preserve. He said they remain from the efforts of the American Tea Growing Company to cultivate tea here between 1901 and 1907. The plants have flourished in the wild here, and make up much of the vegetation we see around the base of the trees.

In fact, ever-resourceful, the Caw Caw Center now hosts their own tea parties during the growing season. Complete with instruction on harvesting and preparing the leaves, with cookies and sandwiches provided on party tables out in the forest. Imagine that! An unrepentant tea drinker, I’ve got to come for that.

Thanks again to Caw Caw Interpretive Center Manager, Mr. Thomas Thornton, for his contribution of time and expertise to the CarolinaConsidered Project. I hope to visit this interesting part of South Carolina again in the very near future.


Direct Links to Audio Files, in case your browser has difficulty with the embedded links above.







Monday, January 16, 2012

Charleston County’s Caw Caw Interpretive Center on Highway 17, SC

Caw Caw Interpretive Center is one of those interesting places in South Carolina I’ve long intended to visit, but have never taken the time. The unusual name alone gives it appeal …. It’s located in Ravenel, on the west side of Highway 17, about fifteen miles south of Charleston.

Highway 17, or the Savannah Highway, as it’s also known, is a wonderful alternative to the I-95 superhighway. It takes a little longer, but it offers far more interesting natural and social scenery along the way. Last month I finally got a chance to visit Caw Caw. While camping at Edisto Beach State Park for a few days.

Now, Caw Caw Interpretive Center is operated by the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission. So, I assumed it was just a normal county park, and allocated only two hours for the visit. Well! That was a mistake!

02 Park MapThe Caw Caw experience begins as soon as the visitor turns into the gate. See the red arrow above. A well tended gravel-surfaced road meanders about a half-mile through Caw Caw’s forest to the Interpretive Center buildings and parking lots.

The speed limit here is 15 MPH, but I drove along much more slowly. Looking right and left at the remarkable trees and undergrowth characteristic of this part of South Carolina. Well, characteristic when it’s allowed to grow naturally. Watch out for deer, hikers, and other critters along the way. They’re all unpredictable. Especially the hikers!

At the road end’s loop you’ll see two buildings. The one on your right is the Visitors and Exhibit Center.

The one on the left houses classrooms, like the one you see above. Click the photo and have a look at the exhibits along the walls.

There’s even a laboratory room equipped with microscopes. Quite a few school groups from around the State visit Caw Caw on field trips. It doesn’t cost the schools much at all, and as you’ll hear Center Manager Thornton explain in the next post, there are plenty of educational programs here for them. 

But the real treat, at least for me, was in the Exhibit area of the building on the right. Admission is only a dollar per person, if memory serves. After paying your fee, take plenty of time to look through the exhibits.

They don’t have a lot of space here. But somehow they’ve managed to pack in all sorts of interesting information about this part of South Carolina’s Lowcountry.

There are even a few exhibits designed for the younger set!

The thing that caught my fancy, though, was the detailed explanation of rice cultivation in this part of South Carolina. Come to find out, most of the 600-some acres now occupied by the Caw Caw Center was used to grow rice in the late 18th and 19th centuries.

After going through this exhibit, I now understand the system of irrigation used for rice cultivation here and at nearby Botany Bay. It’s not easily explained. Whoever created this Caw Caw rice exhibit has managed to do it with a combination of visuals and clear, simple text. It must have been an interdisciplinary project.

Once you’ve absorbed all of the information you can about this area’s geography, history, flora and fauna, step out for a walk along the Center’s trails. Note the concrete walkways in the photo above. Most of the trails here, of course, are more naturally surfaced.

But there’s plenty to see at Caw Caw even if you’re dependent upon wheeled transport. Places too in the parking lot to get in and out of cars and vans.

This is only the beginning, though. The trails here are marvelous.

Here’s a list of them, and a useful map.

These photos simply can’t do justice to what you’ll see here. You just have to visit!

Over near the marsh, I came across this unusual construct. Note the wheels! No one was around. So I meandered over and climbed aboard.

Oh my. A viewing seat for bird watchers. Had to be that! I sat for a while and looked at the bird life in the marsh, with little idea of what I was seeing. Suddenly, some distance out, a huge bird began an acrobatic display. It had a white head and white tail. A bald eagle. Even I can recognize them! Too far out to take a photo, but close enough to see clearly. He – or she – soon was joined by several colleagues. What a treat!

I had time only to walk less than a quarter of Caw Caw’s beautiful trails during this visit. It was nearly closing time when I got back to the car and reluctantly drove out the gate to Highway 17. I surely hope to return – allocating an appropriate amount of time! – during my next visit to the Coast. Caw Caw Interpretive Center is a must-visit destination in South Carolina.

Oh, while visiting the Exhibit Hall, I met Center Manager, Thomas Thornton. Mr. Thornton kindly agreed to a recorded interview for CarolinaConsidered. I told him it would take only five minutes, or so. Well … the “ … or so …” stretched into about 20 minutes. Thanks for your patience, Mr. Thornton.

Click here to access the Interview with Center Manager, Thomas Thornton.