Wednesday, August 5, 2015

2003 Paddling South Carolina's Backwaters with Elderhostel

This Elderhostel program was hosted by Clemson University's Cooper Center located on Lake Marion just southeast of Columbia, South Carolina. Lake Marion was created in 1941 with the construction of the Santee Dam. It is named for General Francis Marion, the "Swamp Fox" of the Revolutionary War whose homestead and lands are beneath the lake.

Sparkleberry Swamp (also known as Rimini Swamp for the nearby town) was a magical place. Our van driver, Cecil, was my canoe partner, and being a lifelong resident of the area, he provided much interesting information as we paddled. Since the area was in flood stage, we spent four hours in the boats, unable to find any dry land, and had to link together for lunch. It rained for most of our week together, but three days were salvaged as the rains stopped for four hours each day as we paddled. As you can see from our attire, the expected 80 degree temperatures never materialized, and 50s were more the rule all week.

The ACE Basin is comprised of the Ashepoo, Combahee, and Edisto Rivers. The Ashepoo begins in cypress swamps above Walterboro. We put in by highway 303 where the Ashepoo is barely 20 feet wide and encroaching and overhead foliage resembled a tropical rainforest. Later the river opened up as we passed (and ventured into) old rice fields as we paddled seven miles today.

We also paddled the East Branch of the Cooper River, entering via Quenby Creek, and we stopped to view the 300 year old church along its shore as well as an old rice field. This Elderhostel program was exceptionally well-organized by Pam, and despite the inclement weather and flooded conditions, she managed to find areas we could paddle.

The food and accommodations at Cooper Center were superb and a highlight of the week was the extraordinary entertainment provided by local singers Linzy and Karen Washington. Lizzy was a mountain of a man, a local barber, whose bass singing voice was dramatic and had once entertained then President Clinton. Karen is a high school music teacher with an operatic trained voice. Together they harmonized for us for an hour, and after some of our participants left, they remained and we group-sang hymns for another 45 minutes, and when we parted, we'd felt like we were walking out of a deeply emotional church sing/service! A wonderful evening!

You never know what you'll see when paddling... 

Our final day was 46 degrees, windy, and raining, but it was bearable since we were aboard the Fish Eagle Tour pontoon boat out of Santee State Park, and the scenery and wildfowl we saw in Stump Hole Swamp (the northern end of Lake Marion) were marvelous. Nesting osprey, cormorant, anhinga, and great blue heron were everywhere, and other wildlife also entertained us.

Top row (l to r): Glenn, Laurie, Carol, Dave, Chuck H., and Don
Middle row: Stephanie, Louise, Alberto, Mary, Barbara F., Dick, Barbara T., and Audrey
Bottom row: Larry, Pam (our leader/coordinator extraordinaire), and Jim
(not pictured: Roger)

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