Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Lee State Natural Area. Part VII. Visit to Nearby Woods Bay.

Click here for the first post in this series.

Earlier in the week, Lee State Park Ranger, Frederick Stukes, dropped by the campsite during his regular rounds of the Park facilities. Ranger Stukes was a great source of information about this Park, and about this whole area of South Carolina. Born in nearby Rembert, he was raised in an outdoors-oriented family that has produced other Park System Rangers. He’s been assigned to Lee for about three years, and really enjoys his job.

Ranger Stukes patiently answered my questions about the Park’s trees, water, and wildlife. Then I asked about Carolina Bay State Natural Area. He knew about that site too and provided solid background information. He often meets with Ranger Tim Ritter, now in residence at Woods Bay. He also mentioned that Ranger Ritter would be at the Park today.

WB sign So, over I went. Woods Bay used to have its own Park Manager. Now, though, it’s been placed under the jurisdiction of Lee State Park’s Manager, with a regular ranger living on the property.

map to woods bayWoods Bay State Natural Area may be managed by Lee State Park. But it’s not all that close. In fact, about 30 miles away. The trip took me about 50 minutes. In compensation, like so many drives here in Lee County, I passed through beautiful agricultural scenery. The huge, flat fields here with their big-wheeled irrigation rigs are simply spectacular. They make a mountain-grown lad’s heart skip a beat or two.

Woods Bay Google Earth Woods Bay is not a heavily visited facility within the South Carolina Park System. However, it has to be one of the most important. Here’s a view from Google Earth. You can easily see the northwest-to-southeast elliptical shape that’s characteristic of Carolina bays. And Woods Bay is one of the largest well preserved examples in existence.

wetland 2 Nearly 1,600 acres of mixed habitat. Including marsh, forest, and sand hills. Like Lee State Park in that regard

Click here for more information on Carolina bays. Quite a detailed Wikipedia article. More adventurous readers might enter “information about Carolina bays” in a Google search window. All sorts of material there. Some solid; some fanciful.

When you arrive at Woods Bay, check to see if the Nature Center is open. Ranger Ritter is available there only at certain times. He has plenty to keep him busy throughout the Park. And I believe he regularly works at other facilities as well. As do many of the Rangers in the system. I don’t know how they manage the workload.

The Nature Center includes a number of interesting displays. And, as with other Parks in the system, a preliminary look through the information available there will help you to better understand what you’ll see as you explore the Park itself.

alligator display Speaking of which, here’s a display sure to attract attention. I failed to get a name. But he’s certainly formidable-looking. Ranger Tim told me that he’s actually a Texas alligator. From off, in other words! Just like me. Slightly different from the alligators found here at Woods Bay.

carolina bay poster Less impressive, perhaps, but even more informative – at least for me – was this wall-mounted poster that explains Carolina bays. The best I’ve seen so far. Be sure to click on the image above to see a larger version.

tree front As you step back out onto the porch of the Nature Center be sure to have a good look at this tree just across the road. It’s a recent feature. Well … obviously, it’s been there for some time. But it’s been hidden by surrounding brush and shrubbery. Recently cleared to get this beautiful view. Trees like this can be seen throughout the Woods Bay site. Most of them, however, require a bit more walking to enjoy!

signposts Here, toward the left, is a signpost that directs you to most of Woods Bay’s treasures. Not all, to be sure. But the nature trail and the boardwalk will keep you busy for at least several hours.

Note how well this facility is maintained. Not a scrap of trash; grass mowed, where appropriate; brush trimmed back. Again, where appropriate. All of this must take time. I certainly hope that Woods Bay has a large an active corps of volunteers to help Ranger Tim Ritter. Just too much for a single individual to handle.

boardwalk 1 Rangers Shelley and Stukes both sang the praises of the new boardwalk at Woods Bay. So off I went. Now, this is an impressive piece of work!

boardwalk 2 Thanks to the boardwalk, all of us get the opportunity to view this remarkable Carolina bay wetland from the inside out. Even those of us with limited mobility. Fine even for wheelchairs and strollers. Click on the photo above to see the pilings of the old boardwalk to the right. They’re being removed as time permits. Perhaps you’d like to volunteer to jump in the water and dig up a few of those posts!

wetland 1 Also, consider what a job it must have been to build that boardwalk. Can you imagine wading out through this murky water and vegetation before construction to determine the boardwalk’s path? [I later learned that Lee State Park Manager Bryn Harmer and a colleague were the ones who did it!] It’s a beautiful spot. But I was happier walking along the boardwalk than I would have been slogging through the muck!

boardwalk 3 Then suddenly, after several hundred feet, the boardwalk simply ended! I asked later about that and learned that was as far as available funding took it.

The hope is to add several hundred more feet, and even an observation tower at the end that will allow visitors to climb up for an unusual view of this Carolina Bay. Imagine that! I’m going to keep an eye on this project, and certainly will return when the additional footage and the tower are added. After reading about Carolina bays, this opportunity to walk around smack dab in the middle of a large one helps to put the information in perspective.

green bug I’d hoped to see at least one of the alligators that call Woods Bay home during this visit. No such luck. Didn’t even see a single snake. This bright green insect did show itself on the boardwalk. Also a beautiful creature.

boardwalk 4 The walk back from the end of the boardwalk was as interesting as the walk in. It’s beautifully laid out, providing spectacular views of the surrounding scenery at every turn.

turtle One small turtle came out to sun itself on a log protruding from the water.

moss on tree Don’t leave Woods Bay until you’ve also walked the nature trail. It offers more spectacular views of a different part of this Carolina bay.

trail It’s not as accessible as the boardwalk, of course. But from beginning to end it’s well maintained, level and smooth. Also about the right length.

Turn right when you step off the beginning of the boardwalk and before long you’ll see the trail on your left. It’s well marked from beginning to end.

wetland 3 Here too there are dozens, if not hundreds, of varieties of interesting plants to see.

I’ve got to learn more about South Carolina plant life. Visiting areas like this with limited knowledge of the plant life is like traveling in a foreign country without knowing the language. Pleasant. But the visitor is bound to miss a lot.

Suddenly it was late afternoon and time to leave Woods Bay State Natural Area. I’d only been able to scratch the surface of this incredible resource during this visit of several hours. Another must-return site.

Time to find a public WiFi cloud. And to get back to the Aliner at Lee State Park to get some writing done. Oh, and maybe a light dinner on the way … So stay tuned.

Click here for the next post in this series.

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  1. Beautiful tiger beetle! Your posts make me want to play hooky from work and go exploring...

  2. Beutiful photos! You must have hired a photographer to tag along...