Friday, July 4, 2014

Georgetown's waterways 7/3/14

     The watershed of five rivers converge in the area surrounding Georgetown forming Winyah Bay.  This area represents over 820 square miles of mostly pristine wild lands.  192 of those square miles are coastal hardwood forest, and another 35 square miles are fresh water tidal marshes.  Today we head through this area out to the lighthouse at the mouth of the bay followed by a trip up one of the rivers.  Our host is Ron Church, native of the area and knowledgeable of these waterways.

Ron Church

     Passing by range markers and buoys, we cover the roughly 7 miles across the bay heading toward the Atlantic.

     This is the mouth of the bay - the opening between North and South Islands - both protected nature preserves.  About a 45 minute ride brings us to the lighthouse at the mouth of the bay.

     This is the oldest continuously operated lighthouse in the United States.  The original lighthouse, a cypress structure, was destroyed in a storm in 1806.  The structure was rebuilt in 1812 and heavily damaged in the civil war.  It was once again rebuilt in 1867 to its current height of 87 feet, and is the northern-most of ten lighthouses in the low-country.

     We didn't go out to the beaches, but they are part of the preserves.  Along the way are a number of atolls including Sandy Island, a low lying 12,000 acre body of land that also has been protected.  

    It is interesting to note that on the trip across the harbor and back, and then probably another six miles up the Black River and back we saw a total of five other boats out on the water.  This is a boater and fisherman's paradise.

     Heading back into the bay, we pass several miles of coast that belong to Hobcaw Barony, another 16,000 acres of protected land.  

     As we swing by Georgetown and head toward the US RT 17 bridge the vegetation shifts toward the tidal marshes.

     A portion of the old bridge still serves as a walking path and fishing pier.

     This was the old rice growing country.  Originally this area was cypress swamps, but lumbering companies and those clearing land for rice production removed the trees long ago.  

     Mile after mile of the old rice fields slip by.  After rice production stopped in the early 1900's, these areas became the perfect wintering grounds for ducks.  Many of the plantations were subsequently purchased by northerners as hunting grounds.  Many of them were in foreclosure for taxes.  This actually turned into a good thing for this area though - a good number of these tracts of land have since been turned into nature preserves.

     A few of them still grow rice - evidenced by the working flood gates that control the water flow into and out of the fields.

     The land slowly gives way to the old cypress trees - a few of substantial size remain.

     The trademark knobby root systems of the cypress abound.

     Eventually we arrive in an area that was far enough above town that it was not exploited for its lumber.  Every once in a while you round the bend and come upon old houses, some of them equipped with boathouses that are worthy structures in their own right.

    These hundreds of square miles of cypress swamps leech a compound called tanin into the water - which gives it slight coppery coloration and the hint of a taste that is not unlike tea.    

    And so after about four hours out on the water, we turn back downstream to Georgetown, passing the other half of that old bridge that is a public park.

     Arriving back in Georgetown, a whole new perspective of this area emerges.  This is a huge tract of land that has been protected and in which life of all types flourishes.  Numerous public boat landings combined with huge stretches of sheltered waterways makes this an awesome area for anyone who loves life on the water.

     And so we arrive back in Georgetown at dusk - which now somehow seems small by comparison.

     Today's parting shot came from a spot about four miles up the black river.  We spotted some critters eating tree branches along the way - and what a surprise.

     One of the land-owners keeps a few camels who in some strange way don't look all that out of place.

Happy Fourth of July to all of you in the States, and Happy Friday to everyone else!!

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