Bull’s Island

While traveling on long car trips, my wife and I listen to audiobooks to help pass the time. Over the years we have listened to many good books.  I personally enjoy books written about places I have visited and books set in the vicinity of the South Carolina lowcountry.  We recently listened to a book titled Bull’s Island by Dorothea Benton Frank.  Ms. Frank has written many books set in the lowcountry such as Folly Beach:  A Low Country TaleLow Country Summer, and Return to Sullivan’s Island to name a few.  Bull’s Island centers around a wealthy lowcountry family who covertly acquired a 5,000 acre barrier island north of Charleston, SC with the help of a U.S. Senator who altered the language in a funding bill so they could purchase this island that was originally given to the federal government for a wildlife refuge.  They plan to develop this environmentally sensitive island into an enclave of extremely high end housing units and amenities that can be purchased for sale in the millions.  Dislike among families reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet, intrigue, and old secrets keep family members estranged for years only to have those secrets revealed in the end.

I mention the Bull’s Island book because we recently spent several days in Myrtle Beach, SC and returning home we passed the turn off for the Bull’s Island ferry along Rt. 17 about 15 miles north of Charleston, SC.  We decided to follow the story lines in the book to the Garris Landing in Awendaw, SC that serves as the boat landing where the Bull’s Island ferry embarks and as the site of several fictional environmental protests described in the book. The ferry runs on a limited schedule depending on the season.  Be sure to check the schedule in advance so you are not disappointed to find it is not running on the day you visit.

Bull's Island ferry

Bull’s Island Ferry at Garris Landing in Awendaw, SC.  The farthest land you see in the distance is Bull’s Island.

While the book is pure fiction as far as the plot goes the adventures one could have by visiting Bull’s Island are numerous.  As part of the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, Bull’s Island is one place we have put on our bucket list to visit.  The 30-minute ferry ride includes an introduction into the wonders and history of this fascinating place.  This uninhabited refuge boasts 16 miles of trails, 7 miles of coastline, and a place called “Boneyard Beach”.  Boneyard Beach is a three mile stretch of beach littered with weathered oaks, cedars, and pines that reminds me of a stretch of beach on Jekyll Island, GA called Driftwood Beach that has hundreds of oaks and pines that have been weathered to a light gray by the sun and saltwater.

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Boneyard Beach on Bull’s Island

According to a volunteer we spoke with upon our arrival at the boat landing there are over 2,000 alligators on the island which covers over 5000 acres. He said it was the second highest concentration of alligators in the U.S.  According to a brochure we picked up, Bull’s Island has been called the “Galapagos of the Eastern Seaboard” and “is managed for the protection of endangered and threatened species”.  The island also is the second most significant nesting location for loggerhead turtles north of Florida.  The volunteer said they had identified and covered with netting over 500 nesting sites this year.

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The farthest land seen in the upper left is the southern end of Bull’s Island

While space is limited you can also immerse your self into the islands ecosystem by booking a 3 day – 2 night stay at the Dominick House  This is a 1920’s era manor house  with six bedrooms, a kitchen, showers, and a large gathering room.  Your stay will include 3 days of guided tours by the Naturalist, low country cuisine, viewing sunrises at Boneyard Beach if you are an early riser, and plenty of time to relax.  The volunteer told us that they are already booked for 2018 so I guess this is an adventure you must plan a year in advance, but it sounds like it is worth the wait.

As my wife and I continue to travel  we will listen to more books about the lowcountry and those written about places that will inspire us to visit.  Have you started your travel bucket list?  If not, what are you waiting for?

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A Lesson Learned about Lowcountry Fishing – Will the Learning Ever End?

Recently a friend and I went on a fishing/scouting trip to an area that I hoped would be suitable for fly fishing for redfish.  We went down to Hilton Head Island and put in at the Haigh Point landing then ventured up McKay’s Creek to the north end of Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refugee.  According to navigation charts there is an area just off Pinckney Island, where at low tide is an area about a half square mile where the water is 1 to 2 feet deep.  While I have boated around this area several times I never looked at it as a possible location to fish.  We were scouting this area to see if there was any smooth cordgrass in the water that might attract redfish that feed on fiddler crabs or periwinkle snails that attach themselves to the blades of grass.  It turns out I had it backwards.  At low tide this area is just a sandy bottom where we saw a few blue crabs scampering along the bottom.

 

Pickney I.

North end of Pinckney Island at low tide.  This grassy area would be partially submerged at high tide.

The grassy area I thought I would see partially submerged at low tide is actually partially submerged at high tide which is where I assume redfish would feed on crabs and snails.  It is in areas like this that you can sight fish by seeing dorsal and tail fins above the surface of the water as the fish search for food, or you can see a distinct “V” moving on the surface as a fish swims just below the surface.

After fishing the area with no luck, we got in the boat and worked our way back through McKay’s Creek stopping at a few spots to do some bottom fishing for sharks.  This area around the Broad River is a virtual shark nursery.  When my grandkids visit in the summer they love to fish for sharks because they are abundant and easy to catch.  We usually end up catching small blacktip and bonnethead sharks using cut mullet or squid as bait.  Occasionally, we catch a larger shark which makes the day all the more exciting for them.

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We didn’t end up catching any sharks or redfish on our scouting trip, but I did catch a small stingray.  So even though we struck out fishing just being out on the water  was worth the trip.  Being in this area around Pinckney Island, as with any waterway here in the low country, is spectacular.  The scenery changes with the tides and around every turn.  While I grew up and lived in the mountains for most of my life I can’t say enough about how fortunate I feel to be living in the low country of South Carolina.  I guess I am what the former director of the county department I worked for would call a “Damn Yankee”.  He said tourists that visit this area and return home are “Yankees”, and those who visit but don’t go home are “Damn Yankee’s”.  I take pride in that moniker, but he also said that since I was from West Virginia he kept me around for the entertainment value.   I must have been an entertaining Damn Yankee.   But I also understand his concern for the expansion of development in this area.  On one hand it is amazing and on the other hand alarming how much development has taken place in the nine years I have lived here.  Only responsible development can protect the water resources that makes this area special for fishing and shellfish growth.

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Late afternoon near Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refugee