On a recent trek to South Carolina’s beautiful coastline, I had Edisto Island pegged as my destination. Friends and co-workers had told me of its beautiful scenes but also warned that there wasn’t “much to the area”; but that is precisely what inspired my desire to visit the area. I’m not interested in the commercialized tourist-style getaways. My nature-loving soul yearns for wild expansive spaces where one can breathe in fresh, untrammeled air and revel in the simplistic beauty of natural surroundings. Edisto was exactly what I wanted.
Online, I found cabins available at Edisto Island State Park, and upon arrival, met Paulette, at the Ranger’s Office check in. She was a wealth of information regarding the area, and suggested, since at the time of my arrival, my cabin wasn’t quite ready for occupancy, that I take in some of the local sights. Much to my delight, she touched on a location that wasn’t on any map I had scoured. Botany Bay, she called it, expounding further that it was quite THE place to go if one enjoyed the pristine beauties of nature. She gave me a local map, what seemed like easily followed directions, and off my trusty Jeep and I went.
First, I scouted the island’s shoreline, finding a promising location for the next morning’s sunrise photo shoot. Then, I drove in the opposite direction, following Paulette’s verbal instructions. Two stops later for directions ( and no, I am not adverse to stopping to ask, saves me valuable time and gas), I found the little road sign marker, Botany Bay Rd. Eager to see what lay down this tree bordered road, I turned onto the white sand packed road and began the long road back to the main gate of the Botany Bay Plantation WMA. I was in awe of the scenery along this drive into Edisto Island’s WMA. On either side of the entire roadway , live oaks, of all sizes, adorned the landscape; their ethereal arms reaching up and over toward the opposing side, as if reaching for one another, forming a living canopy to drive beneath. The towering limbs draped in Spanish moss are alive with a myriad of song birds flitting about the twisted limbs and brushy undergrowth. The volunteer at the main check in gate (admission is free) told me that this road is one of the most photographed in all of South Carolina. I could easily see why. If one takes the time to listen as you stop along the way (and yes, I stopped often), depending on the time of the year, one might hear the song of the pine warbler, or the yellow throated warbler. Vireos and tanagers are frequent residents foraging through the foliage. It is a virtual bird-watcher’s paradise.
During my visit, I had the pleasure of meeting Bill Campbell, an avid birder with his own story to tell. Bill plays a role in helping to manage a 260+ acre undisturbed natural watershed and wetlands near downtown Montgomery, AL. The goal of the Montgomery Nature Conservancy is to restore and preserve the Tupelo and Cypress wetlands. To learn more about their efforts go to www.cypressnaturepark.org
Botany Bay was born back in the 1840’s when two great plantations, Bleak Hall, and Sea Cloud were joined by the Townsend family. During the 20th century, the plantation owners harvested timber and farmed the open fields, managing habitat for local wildlife. The entire area is a mix of pine-hardwood forests, agricultural fields, coastal wetlands, and a barrier island with over 2 miles of undeveloped beach Besides the over 4,500 acres of fields and marshlands, there is unspoiled Botany Bay Beach resplendent with its own “bone-yard” and littered with millions of shells of all shapes, sizes, and colorations. Shell collecting is, however, prohibited here. So the only shells to be treasured from this adventure, are those captured in photographs.
As a WMA, it is subject to scheduled hunts, events, and other activities that close it to the general public at certain times, but otherwise, the land is wide open to driving tours offering a 6 mile scenic drive through hammocks, forests, fields, and salt marshes. Or, for biking and walking enthusiasts, there is space galore.
To learn more go to www.dnr.sc.gov and http://preserveedisto.org/Botany%20Bay/BotanybayWMA.html to learn more about this carefully hidden, yet dazzling, jewel of Edisto Island…