What’s in a Name? Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary or Great Swamp Sanctuary

Take a break from I-95 and walk on the wild side

There is a beautiful wildlife sanctuary located in the middle of the historic and picturesque city of Walterboro, South Carolina. Easily reached from I-95, the Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary is a great place to leave the traffic behind, stretch your legs, and enjoy nature. The sanctuary contains a network of boardwalks, hiking, biking, and canoe trails that are perfect for viewing a diversity of a black water bottomland habitat.

Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary (formerly Great Swamp Sanctuary) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

History, culture, recreation, and educational opportunities are abundant. The 600-acre sanctuary features a “braided creek” swamp which divides into an interlocking or tangled network of several small branching and reuniting creeks resembling a braid. The 3.5-mile loop is paved and well maintained.

Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary (formerly Great Swamp Sanctuary) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The most historically significant path here follows the Colonial-era Charleston-to-Savannah Stagecoach Road still bearing the cypress remnants of long-fallen bridges. Waltersboro was the southernmost spot where this wagon road was built likely since a more southern route would be far too swampy. The former road still bears the remains of cypress built and long-fallen bridges.

Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary (formerly Great Swamp Sanctuary) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Perpendicular canals with tannic water had been carved decades or more before to drain the swamp and levees could have provided narrow-gauge access for loggers to remove the cypress. A few old specimens have hollows in their trunks or are double-trunked.

Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary (formerly Great Swamp Sanctuary) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What’s in a name? Much, it seems. Names give a place meaning. So it was, on our trip through the Lowcountry in December 2012 we visited the 600-acre Great Swamp Sanctuary at Walterboro. Located within the ACE Basin, the East Coast’s largest estuarine preserve, the Great Swamp Sanctuary charmed us.

Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary (formerly Great Swamp Sanctuary) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Known as the ACE Basin—for the Ashepoo, Combahee, and Edisto Rivers—this part of South Carolina is where floodplains merge feeding the estuaries of the Lowcountry. In fact, it’s from this very swamp where the Ashepoo River rises.

Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary (formerly Great Swamp Sanctuary) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wildlife is abundant with native populations of wild turkey, deer, raccoons, beaver, otter, mink, opossum, squirrels, fox, and wildcats. More than 80 species of birds have been observed here. The park’s four-mile network of boardwalks, hiking, biking, and nature trails provide visitors vantage points for observing the diversity of wildlife inhabiting the black water bottomland.

Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary (formerly Great Swamp Sanctuary) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now here’s the twist. It seems that the folks in Walterboro having built such a beautiful showcase of this natural feature decided a few years back that it wasn’t a good thing to call it what it is—a swamp—and renamed the sanctuary to the Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary. Their rationale? In part, “The word ‘Swamp’ has negative connotations, especially to our more urban friends.”

Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary (formerly Great Swamp Sanctuary) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Well, folks, that’s not your market for nature-based tourism. We love swamps (especially ones with boardwalks) and our fellow nature-lovers do too.

Embrace your heritage! You have a lovely swamp here with a rich history. Sure, it will be wet part of the year and there’s certain to be mosquitoes, but a swamp by any other name is still a swamp. And if it weren’t for that name (Great Swamp Sanctuary), we wouldn’t have stopped to discover the good work the city has done in preserving this land and making it accessible for residents and visitors alike.

Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary (formerly Great Swamp Sanctuary) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From I-95, take Exit 53 and head into Walterboro. The first entrance is located to the left at the corner of S. Jefferies & Ivanhoe Roads. There is also parking at 399 Detreville Street and Washington Street.

Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary (formerly Great Swamp Sanctuary) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bikes and dogs on leashes are welcome on the pathways of the sanctuary, so load up the family and make your way to this nature-based tourism gem that Trip Advisor gives 4.5 stars.

New Green Acres RV Park, Walterboro © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dubbed the “Front Porch of the Lowcountry,” Walterboro offers a lot to enjoy, just down the road. Enjoy a day trip to Edisto Island and Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve. At the end of the day return to your home base at New Green Acres RV Park conveniently located at I-95, Exit 53 (Waterboro exit).

Worth Pondering…

We can never have enough of nature.

—Henry David Thoreau

Edisto Island’s Botany Bay Preserves Plantation Landscape

Botany Bay is one of the most serene and beautiful locations in the Lowcountry

If you want to see the South Carolina coast the way the original settlers did, take a step back in time to Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve located adjacent to the waters of the Atlantic Ocean in the northeast corner of Edisto Island. The 3,363-acre preserve includes almost three miles of undeveloped, breathtaking beachfront that you’ll never forget. The area lies near the North Edisto River just south of the intensely developed resort islands of Kiawah and Seabrook and just north of the rapidly developing Edisto Beach area.

Botany Bay Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The area’s location near the North Edisto River places it within the boundary of the ACE Basin Focus Area, one of the largest remaining relatively undeveloped wetland ecosystems along the Atlantic Coast.

Botany Bay Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The features of this wildlife management area are characteristic of sea islands along the lower southeast coast: pine hardwood forests, agricultural fields, coastal wetlands, and a barrier island with a beachfront. Only this tract has been left undisturbed, providing coastal habitat for a wide range of wildlife species, including loggerhead sea turtles, the state-threatened least tern, and neo-tropical songbirds like the painted bunting and summer tanager.

Botany Bay Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Botany Bay is very accessible; you can tour most of the property in half a day or less. Simply pick up a free self-guided driving tour guide at the information kiosk and you’re on your way. The 6.5-mile route begins along a magnificent avenue of oaks interspersed with loblolly pine and cabbage palmetto, the state tree. Look for colonies of resurrection fern growing on the spreading oak limbs. After a rain, the leaves of the resurrection ferns turn a beautiful bright green.

Botany Bay Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When you get to the four-way stop, turn right into the beach access parking lot. There you’ll find the trailhead to the half-mile Pockoy Island Trail where a causeway built by slaves takes you over the marsh and through a densely wooded hammock. Then cross a small barrier island to arrive at the preserve’s 2.8 miles of seashore.

Botany Bay Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Erosion on Botany Bay Beach has left a “boneyard” of dead trees along the sand creating a unique coastline you’ve got to walk to fully appreciate. Shell collection is prohibited; as a result the beach is full of whelks, scallops, clams, mussels, oysters, sea stars, and sand dollars. The best time to visit the beach is at low tide when a wider section of the shoreline is exposed.

Botany Bay Preserve ice house © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Continue the driving tour by staying on the beach access road until you get to another parking area just past the four-way stop. It’s a short walk from here to two small buildings built in the 1800s. The white wooden Gothic Revival structure once served as the icehouse (pictured above) for Bleak Hall. In the old days, ice shipped from the north was packed in sawdust and stored in the tabby wall foundation.

Botany Bay Preserve tabby shed © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The other building is a tabby gardener’s shed (pictured above) erected next to the now overgrown Japanese formal garden, the first of its kind in North America. The camphor, olive, and spice trees are long gone but ivy, several types of privet, and a few other exotic plants still thrive along the edges of the old garden.

Botany Bay Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Farther along is another tabby structure. During the Colonial period, it was used as a barn and later it was used as equipment shed. The road then takes a couple of sharp 90-degree turns, winding along the salt marsh and offering spectacular views of Ocella Creek. This section also features lots of century-old live oaks draped in Spanish moss.

Botany Bay Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From there, you’ll pass the chimney of a slave house and a couple of ponds created in the 1970s as a habitat for wood ducks, wading birds, and many aquatic species. Cross the dike and you’ll enter the former Sea Cloud Plantation.

Botany Bay Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The final section of the driving tour features the remains of the Sea Cloud Plantation house and a brick beehive built by slaves in the 1700s as a source of drinking water.

Botany Bay Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Botany Bay is free and open to the public except on Tuesdays and during scheduled hunts. Due to changing advisories, please check local travel guidelines before visiting.

Botany Bay Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Two roads diverged in a wood, and

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

— Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

Walterboro: Front Porch of the Lowcountry

Established in 1826, the City of Walterboro is hailed as the “front porch of the Lowcountry” with its historic charm, plentiful natural resources, and warm Southern hospitality

For those reminiscing about the warmth and familiarity of an authentic small town, Walterboro provides the perfect opportunity to step back through time. Nature lovers can take advantage of South Carolina’s year-round balmy weather and enjoy the quiet solitude of the ACE Basin and The Great Swamp Sanctuary, which is accessible from downtown.

Walterboro © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors are reminded of the town’s early days as a summer retreat—tree-lined streets where quaint homes with broad porches and beautiful churches date to the 18th century. The early planters who summered here also built the town’s first library in 1820.

Walterboro © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s been more than two centuries since a pair of Southern plantation owners, Paul and Jacob Walter, seeking solace from Coastal Carolina’s sultry summers and pervasive mosquitoes, found an area about 45 miles west of Charleston to their liking. The town they established in 1784 is still thriving, offering visitors a wide range of festivals, other activities, and two historic districts: Historic Hickory Valley, a largely residential area with homes dating between 1814 and 1929; and the Walterboro Historic District, which covers the historic businesses and the lovely small town full of southern charm and heritage.

Colleton County Courthouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Among its sites on the National Register of Historic Places are the Colleton County Courthouse, the Old Colleton County Jail, and the Walterboro Library Society Building, also known as the Little Library and now the headquarters for the Colleton County Historical and Preservation Society.

Walterboro © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The town’s two major drawing cards, however, are only tenuously related to history and to each other. Walterboro is the home of The Great Swamp Sanctuary, an 800-acre wildlife preserve that attracts more than 10,000 visitors a year, and its downtown is evolving into a major antiquing center. The town, with a population of about 5,800, strives to do its best to take advantage of its notoriety in both areas.

Great Swamp Sanctuary © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Treasure-hunters love scouring the village’s dozen antique shops, finding everything from high-end antiques to fun vintage souvenirs or shopping the Colleton Farmers Market for farm-fresh produce and delicious homemade food products.

Colleton Farmers Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Comprised of over 800 acres of braided creek and hardwood flats, the Great Swamp Sanctuary offers boardwalks, bridges, bike and walking trails for viewing natural Lowcountry wildlife and beauty. Spanish moss drips from Cypress trees and wildflowers abound as you pass a beaver pond, duck pond, and butterfly garden.

Great Swamp Sanctuary © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From sunrise to sunset, a visit to the sanctuary promises a day full of hiking, canoeing, and cycling through pristine Lowcountry swamps. Wildlife is abundant with native populations of wild turkey, deer, coyotes, raccoons, beaver, otter, opossum, squirrels, fox, and wildcats.

Walterboro © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The old Charleston to Savannah wagon road runs through the heart of the Sanctuary. While the wooden bridges have decayed, the impressive road bed remains. The bridges have been replaced with boardwalks and the road bed has become an integral part of the trails. The overland commerce of Colonial times moved over this road.

Walterboro © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The headwaters of the Ashepoo River (the A in the ACE Basin), originate in the Sanctuary. Three creeks join inside of the Sanctuary to form one of the major tributaries of the ACE Basin. The Ashepoo, Combahee, and Edisto Rivers which give the ACE Basin its name, combine to create one of the largest undeveloped estuaries on the Atlantic Coast.

Walterboro © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The ACE Basin consists of approximately 350,000 acres of diverse habitats including pine and hardwood uplands, forested wetlands, fresh, brackish, and salt water tidal marshes, barrier islands, and beaches. In addition, the region is rich in historic and cultural landmarks such as old plantation homes, forts, cemeteries, and churches.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Walterboro is only 45 miles from the Atlantic Ocean. Charleston, Edisto Island, Savannah, and Hilton Head Island are only a short drive away, and Interstate 95, the main north-south corridor on the Eastern Seaboard, skirts the western edge of the city.

New Green Acres RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Conveniently located the New Green Acres RV Park offers 106 long and wide pull through sites with full hookups including 50/30-amp electric service. Our home base while exploring Walterboro and the Lowcounty, we would return to this 5-star RV park in a heart-beat.

Worth Pondering…

Nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina in the morning.